Picture: Rex via Metro UK
The Mayor of Cannes on the French Riviera has banned the wearing of burkinis on the resort’s famous beaches. According to David Lisnard, the head-to-ankles swimming costume favoured by some Muslim women is a “symbol of Islamic extremism” and a threat to public order at a time “when France and places of worship are currently the target of terrorist attacks”.
A “burkini brawl” last weekend at Sisco on the Island of Corsica seems to support Lisnard’s caution. The mayors of Sisco and Villeneuve — and no doubt many other Frenchmen, outraged by the recent terrorist attacks in their country — agree. Who cares if Le Monde and le left wing don’t?
Perhaps the good-looking Republican mayor has a point: in a country that seems to be a special target for Islamist outrages, and in a town not far from one the latest of them – the Bastille Day slaughter in Nice – shouldn’t Muslims keep a low profile? And isn’t ”[b]eachwear which ostentatiously displays religious affiliation” a provocation – if not an insult under the circumstances — to native Gauls?
If he had stopped there with his justification for the ban, however, the mayor could have been accused of mere anti-Muslim prejudice. He was anyway. France already bans the face veil in public, but the laws says nothing about burkinis and some of Lisnard’s critics have called his ruling illegal, although a court in Nice has thrown out an appeal.
But his edict did not limit itself to public safety. It made the burkini ban part of a more general rule:
“Access to beaches and for swimming is banned to any person wearing improper clothes that are not respectful of good morals and secularism.”
Hmmm. “Secularism” we get – it merely places the burkini on the same cultural, if not legal level as the face veil. But what does “respect for good morals” mean in secular France? And in particular at a beach on the Rivera?
It’s true that Lisnard previously placed a ban on walking about the streets of Cannes topless – a sad comment on the state of morals in that city – but apparently his writ does not usually run to the seashore. According to Trip Advisor, the Cannes beach Midi Plage is the “most famous topless beach in France”. A reviewer from September 2015 says, “It was populated by bikini clad maidens and buff geezers so we didn’t stay long.”
Nor do the mayor’s moral scruples stop him from attending that spectacle of shameless exhibitionism, the Cannes Film Festival where, this year, he could hardly have missed seeing model Bella Hadid draped in a wisp of scarlet silk that exposed one leg almost to the waist – and much else besides. If he mentioned anything there about “good morals” we would certainly have heard about it.
So the moral standard in question is obviously the standard of secularism, which knows almost nothing of modesty and tolerates public displays of sexuality that could rouse susceptible persons to lust, envy or anger, passions which are conducive neither to personal safety or public order.
In any case the typical secular, Western beach scene is one in which more flesh can be seen in one afternoon than any reasonable person wants or needs to see in a lifetime; a burkini-clad woman on such a beach is only a symbol of extremism by contrast with the extremes all around her.
We have an object lesson before us right now in the Rio Olympics. Frankly, most of the women athletes make me blush on account of their skimpy togs, but if you want an egregious example, think, women’s beach volleyball.
This Washington Post story about the burkini brawl in Sisco includes a photo of two of the Italian women’s team and one of the Egyptian team – the latter covered, once again, from head to ankle – in regulation kit. I know which of them offends me, and it’s not the Egyptian. She must be ready to die of hyperthermia playing volleyball in that outfit, but to the eye she is elegance itself compared to her rivals.
Not to the eyes of French women’s rights minister Laurence Rossignol, though. To her, Muslim modesty is just “the shutting away of women’s bodies,” and she compares those who choose to wear a garment like the burkini to “American negroes who were in favour of slavery.” But, like the Mayor of Cannes and others around Europe, she is fighting a culture war in which other Westerners are deserting to the other side.
As the Newsweek feature quoting Rossignol points out, it’s about “math” – Muslim numbers and their commercial value. “Islamic fashion is now one of haute couture’s hottest niches, with spending on clothing and footwear by Muslims expected to skyrocket…,” the magazine reports.
The burkini, originating in Australia and given its global launch by British celebrity chef Nigella Lawson when she swam in it in 2011 on Bondi Beach, is now sold by the British retailer Marks & Spencer in 58 countries. High-end labels Dolci & Gabbana and New York’s DKNY have offered versions of the burkini among collections of Islamic fashion.
And it’s not only Muslim women who buy the cover-up swimwear: its Australian inventor, Aheda Zanetti, says that 35 to 45 percent of her market is non-Muslim. Maybe it’s the novelty, maybe the intensity of the noonday sun in a era of global warming, or maybe, just maybe, women are sick and tired of their over-exposure and are looking for a little more modesty and elegance in what they put on. Fashion houses, too, must have reached the limit of what they can do to expose more of the female form while maintaining the fiction that they are designing garments.
As hard as it is for Mme Rossignol, M Lisnard and anyone else of their persuasion to believe, Muslim women who wear a burkini at the beach are probably not making a statement about their religion, but just doing what they feel comfortable with. And if the secularists want them to tone it down, they will have to offer a much better alternative than the various forms of nakedness that constitute the West’s current beach fashion.
Carolyn Moynihan is deputy editor of MercatorNet.