The Irony of Burkini Bans

Twenty-five towns and cities in coastal France have passed laws banning women from wearing “burkinis”.

(photo: Photo credit: “Nice, France” by Dennis Jarvis, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

France’s highest administrative court, the Conseil d’Etat, has been busy lately debating whether it’s illegal for women to be too covered up on French beaches. Seriously.

Twenty-five towns and cities in coastal France had passed laws banning Muslim women from wearing full-body bathing suits, which have come to be known as burkinis.

What was the supposed rationale for the bans? The Washington Post quoted Christian Estrosi who runs the Provence-Alpes Cote d’Azur regional council, which was responsible for passing a number of the local bans. “Wearing an outfit that fully covers the body to go to a beach does not correspond to our vision of living together, particularly with regard to the equality of men and women.” So we’re supposed to believe that allowing women to sunbathe and swim fully covered simply wasn’t French enough, or that it was discriminatory? The French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, offered his reason for supporting the bans, calling burkinis a form of “enslavement.”

As for the real motivation for the bans, I’d say it was simple xenophobia at its worst.

Photographs have been published showing armed police forcing a Muslim woman to remove some of her clothing on a beach in Nice. As LifeSiteNews reported, that town’s deputy mayor was asked by the BBC whether the ban would apply to Catholic nuns who wanted to go to the beach in their habits. “The same rules apply. The nuns are going on the beach with bathing suits.”

Have the French ever heard of religious freedom?

When I read these stories, my first thought was to wonder what my grandmother would think. Having lived and worked most of her adult life as a missionary in China, she was my spiritual mentor when I was a child. How ironic it would no doubt seem to her that women could be barred from being too modest in their bathing suit attire. There was a time – which she could have remembered firsthand – when women were arrested on beaches for being too scantily-clad. And now we’ve reached a point where we insist on it? Bikinis were considered scandalous by many when they were introduced by a French designer in 1946. And they’ve only gotten skimpier over the years.

For the record, the French high court overturned the burkini ban, concluding that it had insulted “fundamental freedoms” including the “freedom to come and go, the freedom of conscience and personal liberty.” Thank heaven they got that one right.

The burkini bans were undoubtedly at least in part a reaction to the recent terrorist attack in Nice, in which 85 people were killed and hundreds more were injured on Bastille Day. John-Henry Westen of LifeSiteNews commented on the French reaction. “Rather than crackdown on Islamic terror cells within the country, they’re chosen to strip women of their right to dress according to their views on modesty.” Westen goes on to quote French political philosopher Frederic Bastiat who wrote this in the 1800’s: “When misguided public opinion honors what is despicable and despises what is honorable, punishes virtue and rewards vice, encourages what is harmful and discourages what is useful, applauds falsehood and smothers truth under indifference or insult, a nation turns its back on progress and can be restored only by the terrible lessons of catastrophe.”