Editors note: Just wanted to encourage you to open this posting. I think it’s one of Simone’s Best!
This summer the burkini (a bathing costume which covers all of a woman’s body except for the face) made a brief appearance on French beaches and an almost instant disappearance. The mayor of Cannes, quickly followed by mayors in other resort cities, simply banned it. He cited a city ordinance prohibiting swimming in street clothes.
This, of course, is about much more than safety measures. The French Prime Minister has called full body swim suits archaic, anachronistic and a symbol of the enslavement of women. The French aversion to any ostentatious religious fervor goes back to a law of 1905, itself based on principles first enunciated in the French Revolution, which established the separation of Church and State. The law forbids any display of religious symbols in public places. The French call this “laicity.”
So this is about what it means to be French.The French are a secular nation. Religion is to be confined to to the place of worship and is not to encroach on civic life. For instance, head coverings are not allowed outside the house. Unlike the United States which calls itself “One Nation under God” and where Presidents routinely call on God to bless America, the French are literal about separating the two realms. (The reaction against the burkini was, of course, exacerbated by the July 14 events in Nice when a religious fanatic simply mowed down families with children who were celebrating the holiday.)
In the 1970s nude Swedish women began to appear on the beaches of The Gambia in Africa. The local population was shocked and nudity was banned. The French are just as averse to full clothing when swimming. In both cases, local sensibilities must be taken into account.
The Koran, I am told, makes no mention of hijabs, niqabs or burkas. It simply enjoins women to dress modestly. When I lived in Lebanon which has a sizable Muslim population, women wore Western clothing and were not always veiled. It is only recently that Muslim men invoke the Sharia to force women to cover themselves completely.
In Iran before the revolution, women also wore western clothes. Now the mullahs have decreed that women who do not wear the hijab on the street must be arrested. I even notice that in current Iranian films women and even little girls are shown wearing shawls and head covering inside their own homes. Iranian men are not allowed to see womens’ hair, even in films.
It is supposedly the need to protect women against men’s lust that motivates this dress code but what about the 72 virgins promised to martyrs in Paradise? Who is protecting them against lust? Or are the laws different in Paradise? So it is only natural that the French people feel that this controlling behavior represents a threat to hard-won women’s equality rights and a regression to more primitive times when religions ruled the world.
Simone, Thank you for another cogent and informative post. I think we could use laicity in many parts of the world!
This comment came to admin.
I appreciate your stand on the burkini and the reasoning behind it.
Editor’s note..We have done a little bit of editing on this comment to tone down places where it got too angry or unkind….. ————————————————————– I find your comments both naive and extremely intriguing. The French are calling these enslavement of women,but what about freedom of speech and religion? If woman wishes to cover her body? What problem do the authorities have? Is it absolute necessary to wear bikini? Wearing Bikini does not mean practicing a religion in a public place. It’s about one state of mind . One’s own choice. How can this be enslavement if one wishes to do… Read more »
The burkini is both ugly and uncomfortable to swim in so the only reason women would chose to wear it is to affirm their religion which is precisely why the French object to it.
Comment below came in French, but we’re going to start with the English translation…. A classic explanation – which I respect. But for us foreigners of a certain age (79 in my case) who live in France and love it very much, this tempest in a teacup has a deliciously comical and deliciously French aspect. A little history – which you obviously already know. The bikini (“the first an-atomic bomb”) arrived in France in 1946. It was formally banned in 1949. – as in several other European countries – for many years. But it became popular in the sixties. In… Read more »
live and let live! That is a good motto when life and questions get complicated. Where I live in southern Spain we have a beach just for dogs, another one for naked people ( generally frequented by germans as you mentioned the swedes…) and I would not mind one for burkini dressed women if there was an issue, which I hope never will happen here.
LOOK FOR SOLUTIONS!!!!!!!!
I like your solutions!
A beach for all kinds!Yeah
This law is very controversial in France – Valls’ principle hope appears to be that the furore raised by this ban will eclipse some of the more serious shortcomings of the French security system. Not least, how was a 25t truck allowed onto the Promenade in the first place & how did some guy who had a GPS ankle tracker get to slit a priest’s throat ?
editor’s note: This response isn’t to Simone, but to a previous commenter….
can i just clarify this: you are saying that women should dress modestly because to do otherwise will justify being attacked by men according to ‘rudimentary laws’? that’s what you’re saying?
It is not what “I” am saying. It is apparently what the Koran says.
I have a suggestion. Instead of having women conceal their bodies under bulky garments why don’t we require men to wear paper sacks on their heads with little slits for eyes . Or perhaps just blinkers.
From the editor: This bit of praise came by email from a new subscriber, but we are publishing as comment.
“I just finished reading your ‘burkini blog’. In a world that seems polarized on every subject, it is refreshing to encounter a mind so thoughtful.”
“The French are a secular nation. Religion is to be confined to to the place of worship and is not to encroach on civic life. For instance, head coverings are not allowed outside the house. ”
Are you kidding ?
I am French; niqab and burka are forbidden in any public space, not hijab and not head covering, which are forbidden only for officials in public administrations and also at school.
But head coverings are allowed at the university.
Oh dear! What an ignorant post (by a habitual troll)? This “burquini” affair has indeed made “the French” look somewhat ridiculous. But most countries are made to look ridiculous to outsiders from time to time. Trump? Putin? Farage? Erdogan? Bashar al-Assad?…..Etc etc. I happen to live in France as a foreigner, and know thousands of this dreaded species you label so venemously. I won’t shame you by demanding your nationality, first-hand knowledge of France, or pedigree. But I will say that your adjectives are well wide of the mark. Have a look in the mirror, my friend.
Editor’s note: Edited to remove some of inappropriate language.
It’s clear you are of the ilk that want to oppress women. Don’t use the freedom of expression excuse. The article talks about separating religion and state. Fact is those covering their heads and body in public are tacitly advertising their religion. Thankfully the French can’t be fooled.
I have been living in France for over fifty years, so I would say I have had time enough to notice some characteristics of the French…
In this era of suicide bombings banning the Burkina from public places is a security measure
If it is a case of women making a choice then its free speech, the reality is that it is imposed by the menfolk of families- the women are not given a choice. Radical muslim is poisoning the lives of women in muslim communities- but they have not been heard in newspapers like the guardian. In the “cités” women are forced to hide their femininity or risk reprisals, collective rape, honour killings, insults, etc. This did not exist 20 years ago- The Burkini is a trojan horse to an environment where Muslim women are supressed.
What you are telling me, is that there is no general religious freedom in France (except for in confined spaces). And to tell you the truth, that is what is most shocking to me, because in my ignorance, I did not know this. I also thought that in our western societies, we would generally accept almost any kind of clothing. Think of the sixties’ rebellion. What if the society would have banned long hair etc, just because somebody thougth it inappropriate. I think people who want to ban burkas etc, do not have any understanding of the principle behind the… Read more »
High-heel shoes and tight pants/skirts are uncomfortable and so the only reason a woman would wear them would have to be a religious one. This is of course a ridiculous statement just as yours was. Women wear such attire in fact to make them look more attractive to men; all men, and not just their husbands. Is it wrong to want to look less attractive to men?
No it’s not!
Yes it is wrong to want to be less comfortable and to look less attractive
I personally see no problem with women wearing what they please on the beach. The Burkini certainly lets you see that there is a woman in there. It is also clear that she is not wearing a suicide belt. I can also see the other argument that some western cities don’t hang Christmas Decorations in the streets because it Offends certain members of our society. Why, I wonder do they receive such special attention.? They are only a small minority. Likewise the numbers who might be Offended by ladies covering up their bodies on the beach are probably in the… Read more »
I just spent 3 months in France. Their cathedrals mark the town centers, church bells ring loudly every hour on the hour, many of their museums are Christian centered. And let’s not forget that they take 3 weeks off to celebrate the birth of Christ and 2 weeks off to mourn his death and resurrection. I find their claim of secularism to be a sham. – I find the burqini ban to be one based on fear and hate. If a woman chooses to to wear one, she should be allowed to. If she is being forced to wear one… Read more »
The French don’t deserve to be dying in large numbers today at the hands of religious extremists, nor do they wish to be gradually be overwhelmed tomorrow by foreign religious traditions. They may be overreacting now but are clearly worried about losing their secularism tomorrow.
“The law forbids any display of religious symbols in public places”. Um, no it doesn’t. Nuns may dress as nuns, Jehovah’s Witnesses may sell bibles, and Muslims may wear beards and hijabs. Even in France. Laicity, or secularism, prohibits ONLY the state and other public authorities from displaying religious symbols. Individuals are free to show their religious beliefs. The exception is public schools, where “ostentatious” religious garb is probibited. As for the so-called “burqa ban”, it is a ban on all face covering, including helmets and masks, whether religious or not. The Conseil d’Etat consequently threw out the burkini bans… Read more »
These comments are probably as narrow-minded as what the arguments they claim to counter. To answer your two questions: 1- Does wearing burkini instigate others? Yes, it definitely does. Muslims have historically proven to be fighters. Even the Prophet is claimed to have been a war lord before turning to religion. They respect stature, strength, purpose. Wearing burkinis has been turned by some -of course not all Muslims would behave as such- into an act of resistance against a culture that they find (righteously, in their views) increasingly offensive. Having been met by outrage and anger by the French, this… Read more »
Yes, you people are absolutely right. The France is known for its secular constitution, policies and views, all those idiots who are now going nut to profess as well as practice Islam knew this fact very well. If the French government bans full clothing on beaches or at any place, they are in their rights, after all it France and not KSA or some Islamic country with Muslim laws in practice. All these things were to be thought out long before adopting France as new home to these Muslims. Similarly it is also a fact that if the practicing Muslim… Read more »
I am not muslim, but banning a burkini looks like response directed more to scared french people after nice tragedy, to show them goverment fights for theis so called rights. For me it has nothing to do with the problem.It does not help nor solve anything. French laicity looks like a bible of forbidden things. Of course those who come to Frence from abroad should respect french culture and perspective, but not allowing any signs of religion is artificial and provoke conflicts. Does veil on head or cross on neck offends anyone? If so why? Do atheists have privilige?
To all my readers:
I appreciated many of your comments. I do welcome opposing views or a different perspective on a topic.
What I find objectionable is: comments that:
use insults to make a point
personal attacks on the author or other commentators
comments that are vicious, rancorous or full of hate.
Therefore there were some that did not get printed.
read almost all the comments and essay on, Burkini. I have some observations to make.
1. Why in west the men are all covered in clothes above all the collar is closed by a tie and the women are low neck and in short skirts. its the men who have dominated the women there and so the rape cases are more there.
2 I would request the Islamic states to ban bikini for woman in these sea shore. or specially for French women, than they can under stand to think not to indulge in personal liking.
They are quite right to ban it Nobody should be allowed to appear in public wearing anything that indicates a religion, including crucifixes and dog collars.
Well live and let live. Who give you the right to judge other people? How would you feel if Islamic countries ban western outfits? Or how would you feel if some one object on the way you dress up? Dressing and following some fashion or trend is a personal choice. No one should be forced to live a life the way other want them to live. Peace
Islamic countries do ban western outfits. Haven’t you noticed how western reporters in Saudi Arabia are all covered up including a shawl on their head and shoulders?
It was good to read this critical comment on the Burkini Debate by Simone Klugman in the Guardian. I live in Denmark and as everywhere else in Europe these years we are subjected to the increase in islamisation orchestrated by the Muslim Brotherhood. The refugee/migrant influx of last year have now had their asylum cases heard and are now on the verge of being housed and ‘integrated’ into society. I look out of my window and are now forced to witness women all dressed in black abayas doing their shopping while being chaperoned by their sons. What is this? In… Read more »
I absolutely agree with you.
This is a matter of religious freedom. Religious Jews also wear something similar to the Burkini and let us not forget the wet suit which covers the entire body. In Israel most small children wear swim suits which cover a lot of the body because the sun is so strong here. What is really all the fuss about? Why can’t people just accept one another’s differences without feeling threatened. Personally, I would like to see both men and women covering up more not just at the beach because, honey, no one wants to see most of what we are forced… Read more »
Moriah I guess you are too young to remember the world before the Muslim Brotherhood clamped down on modesty. The hidjab is a garment that has been introduced only a few decades ago: http://tarekfatah.com/this-is-hijab-this-is-not-islam/ Since its introduction it has become the great divide between muslim women and men, – and between devote muslim women and secularised women. It has no bearing on any sura of the quaran. It is total fiction and if you dispute this just check out Instagram. Here young muslim girls can get the latest tips on draping th hidjab. I am sorrry, – but in my… Read more »
Why you are judging this by your personal values and standards?
who has decided that the birkini is ‘ugly and uncomfortable to swim’? Not the people wearing it? It might look ugly to the onlookers because it does not reveal everything but then, do you mean ‘you’ will judge the beauty and ugliness of other people’s dress and put restrictions on them accordingly?
If someone tacitly advertises their religion, what is the problem? What are the christian religious societies doing when they advertise to read the Bible online? Is it banned in France? As far as I understand, some followers of every religion advertise their faith in one way or the other. Secularism demands that the state should detach from religion and individuals wearing any particular dress are not state.
You should say ‘some’ Islamic countries.
Equal work, equal pay. 50-50 Women-Men in everything. This battle (to burquini or not to burquini) must not be a battle of only men but women too. I think that is futile for men to do it alone. Women must “own” this revolution. If a women, citizen of a democratic country seems to CHOSE to be a slave.. she should be allowed? or forced to fight back?.. after all.. 50-50.. She has the responsability to fight back.. she will have (statistically) more baby girls than boys..is her duty to NOT allow herself to be such an example for her babies..… Read more »
The reason that niqab, burka and burkini should be forbidden in ALL western countries is that they are sinister symbols of the disgusting ways, including honor-killings, that women are treated in far too many islamic states.
Often this mal-treatment of muslim women by their husbands and brothers continues in their new, chosen country.
It makes me very upset to see these “innocent” symbols of this mal-treatment paraded in democratic enligthened countries.
“why don’t we require men to wear paper sacks on their heads ”
I hope you mean muslim men.
To: Tom Abroad: Yes Muslim men. Yes absolutely!
Why, then, is it necessary to censor the burkini? In what remotely free society are the clothing choices of women proscribed based upon assumptions about why they make those choices?
The proscription is draconian.
Or nuns in habits?
There are a lot of assumptions in this whole discussion.
The main reason most Muslim women cover up in public is not because their menfolk “force” them to, although that may be true for some; it is mostly because they want to.
There is a rather good cartoon at the end of this article:
I thought La belle France was about Liberté, égalité, fraternité? Or is it only Liberté pour moi, and not pour vous?
i read a number of comments suggesting there is no where in the quran where muslim women are required to cover themselves and that it is enslavement by men. May I refer them to quran 33:59 which is translated by Yusif Ali thus: 33.59 – O Prophet Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad): that is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested. And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, most Merciful. who is imposing the burqa on women in France? if you are… Read more »
I’m not muslim, have never been muslim and never plan to be. I have a Burkina and use it for swimming. It’s not like the one you have pictured in your photo. It’s very comfortable. I wear it to prevent blistering from the sunshine. France is free to ban them, but there’s more reason than religion to wear them.
Since the “burkini ban” issued in Cannes has been overturned by a French court I guess the discussion here isn’t so much about the ban but more about the need to control how people express themselves. When I was in high school during the 60’s, I rebelled by how I dressed and wore my hair. The administration felt threatened and tried to get me to conform. Looking back at it now it seems so petty, but there was a real concern then and it was a constant battle between the students and teachers. I say let people dress how they… Read more »
Very good topic for a debate in my next class. Yes, they say they want to protect women from men’s lust here on earth and they still come out to say that in paradise, there will be 72 virgins for martyrs. I’ll really like to hear my students’ opinions about this.
French are a secular nation no doubt, and they are doing a fine job keeping religion fat away from sight. They just want religion to be confined to the place of worship and for it not to encroach on civic life. While this may sound nice to some people, I still don’t think we can entirely push religion away from the public eye.
Wow. This is interesting. Didn’t know that France is this against religious activities in public. I thought it was a Christian country all this while. Well, let’s just say that Religion is now taking a major seat at the back of the lives of many. I wonder why someone can’t be allowed to freely show their religiosity outside.
I knew about the entrance of the burkini into the market and it was a major sale. But then French landed heavily on it and it was gone out of their markets in no time. Still surprising how wearing full clothes is considered a religious thing.