From Bikini to Burkini
France is a complicated country. Often credited with making the bikini swimsuit a norm for the world’s beaches, France is now clamping down on Muslim women who show up on French beaches wearing burkinis, full-body swimsuits designed to accommodate Islamic modesty codes. Twenty-six towns have recently banned burkinis, requiring women to leave the beach, disrobe, or pay a fine, if found garbed in one.
Images and video clips have gone viral of well-armed police officers forcing women to disrobe on the beach in front of their children, and sometimes before taunting sunbathers.
The official bans contain vague wording about “correct dress [that is] respectful of accepted customs and secularism, as well as rules of hygiene and of safety in public bathing areas.” France’s prime minister, Manuel Valls, went so far as to denounce the burkini as a tool of the “enslavement of women.”
Burkini fashion designers and women who wear the garb see it otherwise. They tout their often-colorful beachwear as a symbol of liberation, not repression. Muslim women who formerly were uncomfortable swimming publicly, or appearing in mixed beach settings, now enjoy freedom, flexibility, and comfort.
Here’s what’s curious about the officers on the beaches of Cannes, Nice, and Saint-Tropez: They haven’t levied a single fine against anyone in a wetsuit, though divers’ bodies are as covered as women in burkinis. I don’t know what they would do with my mother-in-law who loves the beach, but who walks it covered from head to toe with special clothing to protect her from more skin cancer. And, as for enforcing their fiercely proud secularism, there are no reports of police going after sunbathers wearing crosses.
The French don’t need this beach burkini controversy. The arbitrary nature of the ban discredits their moral integrity. The ban ends on August 31, 2016; a date that must have been pulled from thin air. The laws say nothing against wearing a burkini in a grocery store, coffee shop, or sidewalk café. The beach ordinance does nothing to protect public order, human rights, or hygiene rules (whatever they are).
A top French court might overturn this ban in a matter of days. That would be thoughtful. If a new ruling does not occur, all I can suggest, if you’re planning a trip to France, is that you leave your religion at home (whatever that means)! Or, stay home and appreciate the freedom of religion that we often take for granted in this country. If you have any spare vacation days left, head for the shore and look for some nuns walking the beach and wearing their religious habit.
–Peter Marty, senior pastor