Critics of Islam have long touted Western values in the face of feminine oppression and outright misogyny. Of course, many of these criticisms are hypocritical at best, especially when proposed immigration tests—which intend to ask questions about gender equality, gay rights, and religious tolerance—are outright failed by constituents or even by the candidates themselves.
To start with the notion that burkinis and the like promote a sort of “Islamification” and clash with Western, secular values, we must first acknowledge that we are hypocritical, in that we still favor certain religions (read: Christianity) over all others, even if it’s covered by the guise of traditionalism, and anything speaking counter to that is an abhorrent affront. The burkini ban does two things. It speaks to anti-Muslim bigotry, and it continues the patriarchal institution of policing what women wear.
To tackle both points in one example: remember, that while terrorist attacks continue across nations, Muslims are by and large, as in we’re talking 82-97%, the most affected victims of terrorism. The fact that we forget this may be largely due to the unparalleled coverage of terrorist attacks on Western lands and an eerie silence when victims are from Islamic nations. So the true prospect of being killed by terrorism in a Western nation is, despite fear tactics employed by political parties, fairly low. Furthermore, we must remember that the vast majority of mass murderers and terrorists are male, not female or other. As one article poignantly put it, when a mass shooting or massacre occurs, there’s a 98% chance the perpetrator is a man. So exactly what point does it make to forcibly strip women of their burkinis on French beaches? Answer: misogyny and anti-Muslim bigotry.
With heightened fear across the globe, following many sensationalized stories of true horror, many have begun to take their own precautionary measures. Yet instead of focusing on what it is that drives young men into joining barbaric insurgent terrorist caliphates, or studying and gutting funding for their violent operations, many have turned instead to decrying Muslims everywhere. And the point to be made here is vital: ideas ought to be criticized, humans ought not be oppressed. Islam is an idea. Christianity is an idea. Capitalism is an idea. Existentialism is an idea. These ideas need to be, must be even, battered around and sparred intellectually. We ought not protect an idea for the sake of shrouded sacredness. Yet at the same time, we should not demonize people, oppress them, or hold them to unequal standards judicially. Racism ought to be torn to shreds, but not racists. Systems of communism must answer to the fall of world economies, but those people ought not be marginalized and killed over their ideas. Islam must answer to accusations of misogyny and sexism, but forcibly stripping or reprimanding female observers of a faith is wrong.
Ideas are defeated by better ideas, not through coerced conversion. Women are not policed on Western beachfronts, asked by governmental law enforcement agencies if they are blind to the overt exploitation, and sexualization of their bodies and forcibly made to cover up. Women—and all others—have a right to dress as they choose and express themselves accordingly, insofar as their rights do not infringe upon others to enjoy those same rights.
And while public outcry along with France’s high court were able to defeat this temporary and ridiculous law banning the now infamous burkini, this episode proved to be an important one, especially in that it takes place in 2016 and in one of the arguably “more free” of countries. This shows us the extent to which both sexism and anti-Muslim bigotry—and other xenophobic and/or racist—sentiments largely exist in our world. Many French mayors, for instance, have refused to lift the ban on burkinis despite the court ruling. A major party’s nominee across the pond is standing by his stance to ban all Muslim immigration into the United States, as well as from other countries compromised by terrorism.
This is how and why the burkini ban, although admittedly and thankfully short-lived, reveals a snippet of the sort of body policing and xenophobic tendencies that have unfortunately come to characterize our current state of the world.
This article was written by Amar Ojha, founder and writer at dusk magazine.