“Burkini”: the arguments for and against the ban

It’s a decision that never ceases to be controversial. Last week, the municipal council of the city of Grenoble approved by a narrow majority the principle of an amendment to the internal regulations of the city’s swimming pools, opening up the possibility of bathing with bare breasts or… in them. burkinis† This relatively recent Islamic garment covering the body and head has been the subject of fierce debate for several years now between those who see it as a Trojan horse of radical Islamism and those who denounce its prohibition and criticize a deviation from secularism, supposedly racist. Update and clarification of the arguments involved.

The arguments for a ban burkinis

The French are attached to a secure reading secularism and feminism. Although wearing the burkinis cannot be banned in the name of secularism, to the extent that pool users are not bound by religious neutrality and where this clothing does not form a complete veil (it does not cover the face, hands and feet), a recent Ifop survey tells us that 69 % of French people are in favor of a ban burkinis in public swimming pools, partly for secular reasons. This is because a certain number of people have a certain meaning of it, which goes beyond the letter of the 1905 Separation of Church and State Act, and that Regis Debray summarized as follows: it is “above all a legal construction based on a requirement of reason: equality before the law of all people” Secularism in question, 2016). It is not only the recognition of a right, but also a habit which makes religion a private matter. Between anti-clerical spirit and the preservation of a traditional identity of a France that would be attached to a certain freedom of morals, some believe that secularism should not allow such clothing: it is to make way for the bigotry that we get rid of (religion, there are places or times for that, swimming in the pool is not one of them) and make acceptable the idea that women’s bodies should never be bare in public, even in such a place of refreshment.

Stand wearing . please burkinisis opening a Pandora’s box. The followers of this “secular” line also put forward the idea that to yield to such a demand is to show signs of weakness towards adherents of political Islam who will feel their wings grow and not stop in such a good way. If the government falters on this issue, they will soon be faced with other demands of this kind, including no doubt that of hours regulated for men and women in swimming pools. The idea is that the mayor of Grenoble, Eric Piolleagave in to the blackmail of an association with social undertones, Citizen Alliance, whose spokespersons, Taous Hammouticposted on facebook in 2015: “Remember it is Charlie who signed first?about the attacks targeting the satirical newspaper.

In addition, there is room for the freedom of these women to bathe, which they did not want as long as the burkinis was not authorized, but we forget the requirements of equality and brotherhood in favor of a form of individualism that slides into the development of different legal systems. That’s what the essayist thinks Fatiha Agag Boujahlatwho quotes Montesquieu supportive: “Freedom can only consist of being able to do what one must want” From the Spirit of Laws, 1748). In short, it was not what you must have wanted; it was not a demand for freedom but a selfishness (an argument that we also find in the question of hygiene, mobilized by various elected officials, and which occurs even in a Muslim country like Morocco: most pools require tight-fitting swim briefs , that’s why they refuse swimming shorts too for men).

Finally, even if this is not directly an argument for the ban, one could add that the burkinis is not a religious garment but a “capital deception” the burkinis would be just a marketing stunt by cynical and opportunistic entrepreneurs, and would not correspond at all with respect for an ancestral religious practice. It was created by an Australian in the early 2000s, and the sacred texts do not mention specific clothing when bathing. These entrepreneurs are riding a wave of identity withdrawal at work, just like the anthropologist and essayist says Florence Bergeaud-Blacklerthese brands that have started offering meat halal au moment de l’arrivée au pouvoir des mollahs en Iran alors que jusqu’à ce moment, les autorités musulmanes acceptaient, à l’exception du porc, que l’on consomme les nourritures des « gens du Livre » (chrétiens et Juifs compris , So).

The arguments against a ban burkinis

Ban the burkinis cannot be done in the name of secularism and feminism. This in the name of the strict application of the law of 1905. This was also what the Council of State had already declared in 2016, when the mayors of some municipalities in the Alpes-Maritimes wanted to ban it on the beaches of their cities. Likewise, some feminists argue that it isn’t particularly liberating for women to decide how to dress for them. This is especially the case of the Afro-feminist activist Rokhaya Diallowho regularly speaks out on these issues, as well as activists closer to republican universalism, such as Martine Storticauthor of Get out of Manichaeism (Éditions Michel de Maule, 2016): we can see the veil and the burkinis as signs of oppression without these women having to undress. In addition, miniskirts or heels can also be seen as elements that participate in a stereotypical and sexist representation of women without any attempt to ban them (even if, for their part, they are not encouraged by dogmas as powerful as religious dogmas) .

Ban the burkinis is counterproductive. We can assume that the more we talk about the burkinis and we get tense about it the more we advertise it. Even people who are philosophically hostile to this piece of clothing for their own reasons would rather not be advised not to participate in the controversies launched about it, often by the far right that loves it. Before Grenoble, the city of Rennes had already given permission for wearing burkinis, without an explosion in the number of users wearing them and without causing widespread hysteria. This is one of the lessons that can also be learned from the journalist’s testimony book Faiza Zerouala Voices behind the veil (Premier Parallèle, 2015): Not only do most women seem to wear the veil freely, and not under duress, but furthermore, the more they are taught that this gesture is not acceptable, the more Muslim women in general are inclined to want to do , in a gesture of cultural and religious reappropriation of a stigmatized identity.

Fundamentalists don’t go swimming. The real problem would be that women who have the burkinis at the pool are compelled to do so by third parties who have full control over them. The fact is that, as we have just seen, nothing is less certain, but in addition it must be remembered that true fundamentalists do not go to swimming pools, which in their eyes are immodest debauchery. The place of women, in the Salafist ideology, is the house, certainly not the swimming pool, with or without burkini a piece of clothing that followers of radical Islam consider to be haram (حَرَام), “illegal”like the imam Mohammed Nadhirwho on his Twitter account, followed by 25,000 people, explains that “It is not a legal item of clothing for Muslim women”† Based on this observation, you could say that the burkinis and the demand to wear it in swimming pools would be more the symptom of a tension in identity and of a renewed rigorism encouraged by various stigmatizations, than the final triumph of a deadly ideology.

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