Banning burkinis – a tale of ignorance, bigotry and hypocrisy

The burkini ban in France is yet another case of Muslims being victims of extremists from all sides

Chris Doyle
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The first victim of the Nice attack on 14 July reportedly was a veiled Muslim grandmother, Fatima Charrihi. She was one of around 30 Muslims killed in that atrocity, but would you know it from the French reaction? Outside Muslim communities, few comprehend that Muslims are collectively the largest victims of the extremists of al-Qaeda and ISIS.

The burkini ban in France is yet another case of Muslims being victims of extremists from all sides. It is an object lesson in just how far European and American politicians have to go to understand how to combat the extremists and above all, collaborate with the majority of Muslims.


The saga of the burkini bans at around 30 French coastal resorts all kicked off in Cannes when the mayor banned all “improper clothes that are not respectful of good morals and secularism.”

What is improper clothing? Or for that matter what is proper clothing? Which garments are particularly good at respecting morals? Does this mean a nun’s habit is also banned? Can priests wear dog’s collars? This is not ISIS-controlled Raqqa being talked about but Nice and Cannes.

Why is the morality of clothing always ties to what women wear or do not wear? Arab males in the Gulf also dress conservatively in dishdashes or thawbs. Are they improper? Are there bans on letting a young child not wear long sleeve protective clothing in bright sunshine?

Am I alone in thinking that what is inside the wearer should be of far greater issue? What is just beneath the headscarf or the hair somehow seems to attract far less opprobrium.

No, it is burkinis alone that produce frothing at the mouth right now and Himalayan-scale hypocrisy. And these are not just views of some local bureaucrats but the French Prime Minister has got in on the act proclaiming that wearing the burkini was “the affirmation of political Islam in the public space”.

Banning burkinis panders to instincts of revenge, to the hate mobs and those too ignorant to understand that clothing issues have little relationship to a threat from extremism

Chris Doyle

Public order?

The ban blames the wearing of burkinis for “disrupting public order.” Does this mean that if people riot or fight on the beech because of a burkini that this is justified? In other words, a completely innocent Muslim woman is being held responsible for crimes committed by others.

The issue of compulsion is at the heart of this. The assumption amongst many non-Muslims, is that any woman wearing a veil of any type from the hijab to burka is totally submissive and was forced to do so, that they are one step away from being chattels of ISIS. Some do genuinely choose to wear it even in opposition to close male relatives.

Strange is it not that those who want to make women wear the burka and those who wish to ban them from wearing it have one thing in common – they believe they have the right to tell women what to wear.

It is not just conservative Muslim societies who create pressure on women to conform to specific dress codes. Women in many societies face a full on assault as to what is fashionable and how their bodies should look. Body shaming is rampant. Many Muslim women have told me that wearing a burkini helps them escape these pressures to exhibit the perfect body to the world.

Let us not pretend this represents a new found French resolve to battle for women’s rights. Sadly, it is not. Are there equal opportunities in France, equal pay? Has French foreign policy ever seriously to help obtain women’s rights across the Middle East or in Africa? Was there some well-researched assessment of the impact of such bans on French Muslim women, that it might assist them let alone “liberate” them? Many Muslim women in France now fear to go out. The burkini was designed to give women more not less freedoms.

I wonder if the ban – the-burkini brigade will stop to think why there has been a 200 percent increase in the sale of burkinis. Have they considered how they can help those who are truly forced to wear a burkini, burka or niqab against their will rather than penalise all?

Just as it is not about religion or women’s rights, it is also not about security. It is a distraction from a serious debate about failures in security and how to genuinely engage with large numbers of alienated, excluded French Muslims.

Banning burkinis panders to instincts of revenge, to the hate mobs and those too ignorant to understand that clothing issues have little relationship to a threat from extremism. Not one person in France is safer as a result of these bans, arguably the opposite.

Worse such bans and anti-Muslim bigotry put huge smiles on the faces of ISIS disciples and their like. Images of armed male French police officers forcing Muslim women to take clothes off in public foments the extremist belief that there is a war on Islam, that Europe and the United States will never accept Muslims and never as equals.

We live in a world of differing beliefs, depths of belief and non-belief at a time of unprecedented global interactions, communications and travel. Let us engage in respectful vibrant honest discussion about differing views of the world but in the meantime, let’s leave women to wear what they want to.

Chris Doyle is the director of CAABU (the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding). He has worked with the Council since 1993 after graduating with a first class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University. As the lead spokesperson for Caabu and as an acknowledged expert on the region, Chris is a frequent commentator on TV and Radio, having given over 148 interviews on the Arab world in in 2012 alone. He gives numerous talks around the country on issues such as the Arab Spring, Libya, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Islamophobia and the Arabs in Britain. He has had numerous articles and letters published in the British and international media. He has travelled to nearly every country in the Middle East. He has organized and accompanied numerous British Parliamentary delegations to Arab countries. Most recently he took Parliamentary delegations to the West Bank in April, November, December 2013 and January 2014 including with former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. He tweets @Doylech.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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