Are Burkini Swimsuits a Threat to the West?

Parallax News presents big issues broken down into multiple perspectives. This brief looks at 3 different perspectives on France’s burkini bans.

France remains in a state of emergency after suffering a string of terror attacks. Meanwhile, national sentiment has shifted toward the right regarding the country’s 5 million Muslim residents, the largest such population in Europe. Over the summer, this has been reflected in Cannes and other beach towns, where the “burkini” and other swimwear designed for conservative Muslim women have been banned. Last week, France’s highest administrative court reversed the bans, calling them a violation of individual rights and freedoms. Despite the court order, some local mayors are refusing to lift the ban.

I. Manuel Valls

Manuel Valls, the socialist prime minister of France, is critical of Islamophobia on the right but nonetheless agrees with bans on the burkini. Valls believes the wetsuit-like outfit is “not compatible” with French values such as secularism and equal gender rights. Like burkas and niqabs, Valls argues that the burkini “traps women” and is an outward symbol of their inferiority within an oppressive belief system. The prime minister says outfits like the burkini are not religious garb, but rather proselytization tools used by political Islam. After all, the goal of political Islamism is to counter the West’s secularist culture, the latter of which places a high value on the right of women to dress freely and comfortably.

II. Bénédicte Jeannerod

Bénédicte Jeannerod, Director for Human Rights Watch France, is an outspoken critic of burkini bans. Jeannerod argues that the bans amount to “collective punishment” that unfairly targets women who wish to dress a certain way at the beach. In effect, Jeannerod believes French authorities attempting to ban burkinis, in the name of women’s rights, amounts to a policy led mostly by males that targets women and controls what they wear and where they can comfortably go. She believes the policy humiliates some Muslim women while preventing others from cooling off at the beach. At the same time, “linking a bathing suit to terrorist threats” creates an unfair stigma around innocent women. According to Jeannerod, this contributes to “false and harmful narratives” that dangerously escalate tensions between France’s Muslim minority and the rest of the country.

III. Maajid Nawaz

Maajid Nawaz is a renowned British author, politician, and liberal Muslim critic. Nawaz believes that the burkini bans in France encapsulate two disturbing trends in global society: the simultaneous regressions of Islam and liberal secularism. The insistence by conservative Muslims that female bodies be covered, Nawaz notes, has become prominent over the last few decades as part of an obsessive resistance to the West. At the same time, Nawaz sees France’s banning of clothing as part of a recent shift away from liberalism in Western nations. For Nawaz, this represents a victory for Islamic terror groups on multiple levels. These groups are actively seeking to undermine and replace the West’s liberal system. At the same time, Nawaz points out, images of Muslim women being forced out of religious attire is ready-made propaganda material that could likely be used for recruiting and radicalization.


Further Reading: The Daily Beast / Human Rights Watch / The Guardian

This brief was written by Jared Metzker.

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