Burkini Ban

Image credit: Reuters, 2007

France is at it again. The nation that banned face veils now has three seaside cities banning the “burkini”, a full coverage bathing suit favored by some Muslim women. The mayor of one such city, David Lisnard of Cannes, stated that swimwear ” manifesting religious affiliation in an ostentatious way, while France and its religious sites are currently the target of terrorist attacks, could create risks of trouble to public order.”

In other words, being visibly Muslim in public is becoming increasingly illegal, and that’s the goal, not an accidental byproduct. It is absolutely true that France has been a repeated target of terrorism. The deadliest terrorist attack on French soil happened in November of last year, and another deadly attack took place last month. ISIS took credit for both. 

Conflating all Muslims with ISIS is wrong, morally and factually. It’s not a mistake ISIS makes; they are Sunni, and follow a fundamentalist, Wahhabi doctrine. They don’t get along with Shi’ite Muslims or less extremist Sunni Muslims. In fact, the majority of ISIS attacks have been against Muslims, because ISIS and Islam are not synonymous. The majority of Muslims are not terrorists, and that includes the majority of Muslims in France. 

The ISIS attacks in France were carried out by men, as virtually all mass violence is. Yet these French laws target Muslim women. The terrorists who engaged in simultaneous suicide bombings last November were not prevented by the 2004 ban on hijab or the 2010 ban on veils, because they were men. Likewise a ban on burkinis will not prevent male terrorists of any religion from attacking peaceful people. Women are almost never bombers or mass shooters. 

Some Muslim women wear burkini as a matter of choice. Others wear it because the only other option available to them is never swimming, never going to the beach. Islam, like most religions, has some nasty sexist roots, and in some Muslim nations and families, girls and women are discriminated against in all things. Strict modesty rules are one symptom of a controlling environment. 

If someone is being coerced or forced to cover from head to toe in order to leave their home, let them cover. If someone is being rigidly controlled by another, the solution is not to impose even more control, or to create an impossible and contradictory set of rules. You cannot empower women by taking away choices. You cannot make someone more free by imposing more rules on them. 

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