Burkini, France, God, Man, Power


Editors note: Just wanted to encourage you to open this posting. I think it’s one of Simone’s Best!

This summer the burkini (a bathing costume which covers all of a woman’s body except for the face) made a brief appearance on French beaches and an almost instant disappearance. The mayor of Cannes, quickly followed by mayors in other resort cities, simply banned it. He cited a city ordinance prohibiting swimming in street clothes.

This, of course, is about much more than safety measures. The French Prime Minister has called full body swim suits archaic, anachronistic and a symbol of the enslavement of women. The French aversion to any ostentatious religious fervor goes back to a law of 1905, itself based on principles first enunciated in the French Revolution, which established the separation of Church and State. The law forbids any display of religious symbols in public places. The French call this “laicity.”

So this is about what it means to be French.The French are a secular nation. Religion is to be confined to to the place of worship and is not to encroach on civic life. For instance, head coverings are not allowed outside the house. Unlike the United States which calls itself “One Nation under God” and where Presidents routinely call on God to bless America, the French are literal about separating the two realms. (The reaction against the burkini was, of course, exacerbated by the July 14 events in Nice when a religious fanatic simply mowed down families with children who were celebrating the holiday.)

In the 1970s nude Swedish women began to appear on the beaches of The Gambia in Africa. The local population was shocked and nudity was banned. The French are just as averse to full clothing when swimming. In both cases, local sensibilities must be taken into account.

The Koran, I am told, makes no mention of hijabs, niqabs or burkas. It simply enjoins women to dress modestly. When I lived in Lebanon which has a sizable Muslim population, women wore Western clothing and were not always veiled. It is only recently that Muslim men invoke the Sharia to force women to cover themselves completely.

In Iran before the revolution, women also wore western clothes. Now the mullahs have decreed that women who do not wear the hijab on the street must be arrested. I even notice that in current Iranian films women and even little girls are shown wearing shawls and head covering inside their own homes. Iranian men are not allowed to see womens’ hair, even in films.

It is supposedly the need to protect women against men’s lust that motivates this dress code but what about the 72 virgins promised to martyrs in Paradise? Who is protecting them against lust? Or are the laws different in Paradise? So it is only natural that the French people feel that this controlling behavior represents a threat to hard-won women’s equality rights and a regression to more primitive times when religions ruled the world.

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  1. Editor’s note..We have done a little bit of editing on this comment to tone down places where
    it got too angry or unkind…..

    I find your comments both naive and extremely intriguing. The French are calling these enslavement of women,but what about freedom of speech and religion? If woman wishes to cover her body? What problem do the authorities have? Is it absolute necessary to wear bikini? Wearing Bikini does not mean practicing a religion in a public place. It’s about one state of mind . One’s own choice. How can this be enslavement if one wishes to do it intentionally?.

    As for the 72 virgins in paradise, these are for those who circumscribed their own feelings and lived their life righteously . They can live with them, satisfy their lust just they did with their wife in world. This is the reward. but I can assume from your blog that you lack faith in afterlife. So we must keep this out of discussion.

    Nudity was banned because it was affecting local masses. They felt shocked and they banned so that this would affect their young amateur minds. There are some rudimentary laws that must be followed so that our society can thrive wholesomely. Nudity, for sure, instigates novice minds. That is why there is dramatic rise of rape cases across world because we have ignored the ethics of society..
    Now answer this: Does wearing burkini instigate others? Does this attract unwanted attention.?

    Then You mentioned hard won women equality. Does this violate women’s right? I think that every woman has a right to wear whatever she likes or feels comfortable but that must follow some ethical moral values. Allowing such freedom is essence of women’s right.

    I would conclude this discussion by saying that if there is freedom of speech and religion then they must be in well defined circle. Wearing Burkini does not negate any law. Neither does it have any harmful affect on watchers. We must accept this as a part of Muslim’s clothes. No other country has banned this outfit. French authorities need to find other excuses, if they want so, to ban this.

    1. The burkini is both ugly and uncomfortable to swim in so the only reason women would chose to wear it is to affirm their religion which is precisely why the French object to it.

  2. Dear Simone,
    live and let live! That is a good motto when life and questions get complicated. Where I live in southern Spain we have a beach just for dogs, another one for naked people ( generally frequented by germans as you mentioned the swedes…) and I would not mind one for burkini dressed women if there was an issue, which I hope never will happen here.

  3. Comment below came in French, but we’re going to start with the English translation….

    A classic explanation – which I respect. But for us foreigners of a certain age (79 in my case) who live in France and love it very much, this tempest in a teacup has a deliciously comical and deliciously French aspect. A little history – which you obviously already know. The bikini (“the first an-atomic bomb”) arrived in France in 1946. It was formally banned in 1949. – as in several other European countries – for many years. But it became popular in the sixties. In 1964 the monokini arrived ( in St. Tropez, of course!) which was equally disapproved of for a certain time.

    As to the so-called burkini, it was invented in Australia in 2004 by an Australo-Lebanese woman so that her niece could play on the beach without being burnt by the fierce sun. It had a big success immediately: big international companies like Marks and Spencer whose founder was Jewish) bought it in large quantities without hesitation. But here we are: I understand the current sensitivities in Nice/Cannes. There, there, my dears: calm down – you’ll all soon get over this fuss! And maybe the Musee d’Orsay will lend the Saudis “L’origine du Monde” (“The Origin of the World”) by Gustave Corbet one of these days.

    The original French:

    Explication classique – que je respecte. Mais pour nous autres etrangers d’un certain age (79 dans mon cas) qui vivent en France et l’aime fort, cette tempete dans une tasse de the a un cote comique – et delicieusement Francais. Un peu d’histoire – que vous connaissez deja evidemment. Le bikini (“la premiere bombe an-atomique”) arrivait en France en 1946. Il a ete formellement interdit en 1949 – comme dans quelques autres pays europeenes – pendant des annees. Mais il devient populaire dans les annees 60. En 1964 arrive (a St Trop, bien sur!) le monikini. Egalement mal vu pendant un certain temps. Quant au soi-disant burkini, il a ete invente en Australie en 2004 par une Australo-Libanaise afin que sa niece puisse jouer sur la plage sans etre brule par le soleil feroce. Il a eu un grand succes tout de suite: des grandes societes internationales comme Marks & Spencer (dont le fondateur etait juif) l’a achete en grands quantites sans hesitation. Mais voila: je comprends les sensibilites actuels a Nice/Cannes. There, there, my dears: calm down – you’ll all soon get over it this fuss! Et peut-etre la Musee d’Orsay va preter aux Saoudiens un de ses jours “L’Origine du Monde” par Gustave Corbet…..

  4. This law is very controversial in France – Valls’ principle hope appears to be that the furore raised by this ban will eclipse some of the more serious shortcomings of the French security system. Not least, how was a 25t truck allowed onto the Promenade in the first place & how did some guy who had a GPS ankle tracker get to slit a priest’s throat ?

  5. editor’s note: This response isn’t to Simone, but to a previous commenter….

    can i just clarify this: you are saying that women should dress modestly because to do otherwise will justify being attacked by men according to ‘rudimentary laws’? that’s what you’re saying?

    1. It is not what “I” am saying. It is apparently what the Koran says.
      I have a suggestion. Instead of having women conceal their bodies under bulky garments why don’t we require men to wear paper sacks on their heads with little slits for eyes . Or perhaps just blinkers.

  6. From the editor: This bit of praise came by email from a new subscriber, but we are publishing as comment.

    “I just finished reading your ‘burkini blog’. In a world that seems polarized on every subject, it is refreshing to encounter a mind so thoughtful.”

  7. “The French are a secular nation. Religion is to be confined to to the place of worship and is not to encroach on civic life. For instance, head coverings are not allowed outside the house. ”
    Are you kidding ?
    I am French; niqab and burka are forbidden in any public space, not hijab and not head covering, which are forbidden only for officials in public administrations and also at school.
    But head coverings are allowed at the university.

  8. Oh dear! What an ignorant post (by a habitual troll)? This “burquini” affair has indeed made “the French” look somewhat ridiculous. But most countries are made to look ridiculous to outsiders from time to time. Trump? Putin? Farage? Erdogan? Bashar al-Assad?…..Etc etc. I happen to live in France as a foreigner, and know thousands of this dreaded species you label so venemously. I won’t shame you by demanding your nationality, first-hand knowledge of France, or pedigree. But I will say that your adjectives are well wide of the mark. Have a look in the mirror, my friend.

  9. Editor’s note: Edited to remove some of inappropriate language.

    It’s clear you are of the ilk that want to oppress women. Don’t use the freedom of expression excuse. The article talks about separating religion and state. Fact is those covering their heads and body in public are tacitly advertising their religion. Thankfully the French can’t be fooled.

  10. I have been living in France for over fifty years, so I would say I have had time enough to notice some characteristics of the French…

  11. If it is a case of women making a choice then its free speech, the reality is that it is imposed by the menfolk of families- the women are not given a choice. Radical muslim is poisoning the lives of women in muslim communities- but they have not been heard in newspapers like the guardian. In the “cités” women are forced to hide their femininity or risk reprisals, collective rape, honour killings, insults, etc. This did not exist 20 years ago- The Burkini is a trojan horse to an environment where Muslim women are supressed.

  12. What you are telling me, is that there is no general religious freedom in France (except for in confined spaces). And to tell you the truth, that is what is most shocking to me, because in my ignorance, I did not know this.

    I also thought that in our western societies, we would generally accept almost any kind of clothing. Think of the sixties’ rebellion. What if the society would have banned long hair etc, just because somebody thougth it inappropriate.

    I think people who want to ban burkas etc, do not have any understanding of the principle behind the freedoms they themselves take for granted. The freedom is granted the individual, and is not open for discussion as to why the individual decides on the given clothing, or other expressions. Then it would not be a principle anymore.

  13. High-heel shoes and tight pants/skirts are uncomfortable and so the only reason a woman would wear them would have to be a religious one. This is of course a ridiculous statement just as yours was. Women wear such attire in fact to make them look more attractive to men; all men, and not just their husbands. Is it wrong to want to look less attractive to men?

  14. I personally see no problem with women wearing what they please on the beach.
    The Burkini certainly lets you see that there is a woman in there.
    It is also clear that she is not wearing a suicide belt.
    I can also see the other argument that some western cities don’t hang Christmas Decorations in the streets because it Offends certain members of our society.
    Why, I wonder do they receive such special attention.? They are only a small minority.
    Likewise the numbers who might be Offended by ladies covering up their bodies on the beach are probably in the minority. But don’t they have every right to be Offended and their feelings considered.?

  15. I just spent 3 months in France. Their cathedrals mark the town centers, church bells ring loudly every hour on the hour, many of their museums are Christian centered. And let’s not forget that they take 3 weeks off to celebrate the birth of Christ and 2 weeks off to mourn his death and resurrection. I find their claim of secularism to be a sham. – I find the burqini ban to be one based on fear and hate. If a woman chooses to to wear one, she should be allowed to. If she is being forced to wear one she shouldn’t have to. I’m just sick of people telling women what to wear.

  16. The French don’t deserve to be dying in large numbers today at the hands of religious extremists, nor do they wish to be gradually be overwhelmed tomorrow by foreign religious traditions. They may be overreacting now but are clearly worried about losing their secularism tomorrow.

  17. Yes, you people are absolutely right. The France is known for its secular constitution, policies and views, all those idiots who are now going nut to profess as well as practice Islam knew this fact very well.
    If the French government bans full clothing on beaches or at any place, they are in their rights, after all it France and not KSA or some Islamic country with Muslim laws in practice. All these things were to be thought out long before adopting France as new home to these Muslims. Similarly it is also a fact that if the practicing Muslim does not have an environment to practice his or her faith freely, it is binding on him or her to go to some other place where he or she can enjoy such freedom.
    The French government can not be forced by any argument because they didnt invite these Muslims, in fact it was their own choice to live in a secular country. Now if they feel it difficult to accommodate their religious views in such country, they are bound to Immigrate to some other country where they can practice Islam.
    Government of France!! Just throw them out of France, if you cannot do so for fear of your economics and skilled labour drain, then submit to their demand and amend your Constitution……..;)

  18. To all my readers:
    I appreciated many of your comments. I do welcome opposing views or a different perspective on a topic.
    What I find objectionable is: comments that:
    use insults to make a point
    personal attacks on the author or other commentators
    comments that are vicious, rancorous or full of hate.
    Therefore there were some that did not get printed.

  19. read almost all the comments and essay on, Burkini. I have some observations to make.
    1. Why in west the men are all covered in clothes above all the collar is closed by a tie and the women are low neck and in short skirts. its the men who have dominated the women there and so the rape cases are more there.
    2 I would request the Islamic states to ban bikini for woman in these sea shore. or specially for French women, than they can under stand to think not to indulge in personal liking.

  20. They are quite right to ban it Nobody should be allowed to appear in public wearing anything that indicates a religion, including crucifixes and dog collars.

  21. Well live and let live. Who give you the right to judge other people? How would you feel if Islamic countries ban western outfits? Or how would you feel if some one object on the way you dress up? Dressing and following some fashion or trend is a personal choice. No one should be forced to live a life the way other want them to live. Peace

  22. Islamic countries do ban western outfits. Haven’t you noticed how western reporters in Saudi Arabia are all covered up including a shawl on their head and shoulders?

  23. It was good to read this critical comment on the Burkini Debate by Simone Klugman in the Guardian.
    I live in Denmark and as everywhere else in Europe these years we are subjected to the increase in islamisation orchestrated by the Muslim Brotherhood.
    The refugee/migrant influx of last year have now had their asylum cases heard and are now on the verge of being housed and ‘integrated’ into society. I look out of my window and are now forced to witness women all dressed in black abayas doing their shopping while being chaperoned by their sons. What is this? In Denmark men and women are equal and have created our welfare state by working together as a team, – so now this is happening! Do we really have to tolerate this blatant misogynistic intolerance in our midst? Don’t tell me it does not affect the fabric of our society – this mistrust being introduced between the sexes.
    Do stay away from our secular society, if you only want welfare pay outs by courtesy of hard working Danish women and men and nothing of our freedom for both sexes.

    By the way, instead of the burkini why not wear a wetsuit? Oh no, it will not result in the desired provocation and cause for photo opportunities.

  24. This is a matter of religious freedom. Religious Jews also wear something similar to the Burkini and let us not forget the wet suit which covers the entire body. In Israel most small children wear swim suits which cover a lot of the body because the sun is so strong here. What is really all the fuss about? Why can’t people just accept one another’s differences without feeling threatened. Personally, I would like to see both men and women covering up more not just at the beach because, honey, no one wants to see most of what we are forced to see daily; most unattractive.

  25. Moriah
    I guess you are too young to remember the world before the Muslim Brotherhood clamped down on modesty. The hidjab is a garment that has been introduced only a few decades ago: http://tarekfatah.com/this-is-hijab-this-is-not-islam/

    Since its introduction it has become the great divide between muslim women and men, – and between devote muslim women and secularised women.
    It has no bearing on any sura of the quaran.

    It is total fiction and if you dispute this just check out Instagram. Here young muslim girls can get the latest tips on draping th hidjab.
    I am sorrry, – but in my mind you cannot claim a fashion accessory to be pious dressing.

    So why on Earth has the World turned to the Puritans for guidelines as to how women and men should interact? We left that puritan straightjacket way back in the 1970’s.
    Well, maybe it is just because of this aquired freedom the imam and the mullahs clamped down in the 1970’s. Bringing distrust back into male/female relationships.

    Now we have to call a halt because the muslim men have gone totally crazy in their heads.
    They are simply unable to interact naturally with women!

    The women of Europe, especially German and Swedish women who exercise their personal freedom to attend music festivals etc., are subjected to a particularly MiddleEastern phenomena called Taharrush Gamea: http://www.infowars.com/taharrush-shock-video-shows-rape-culture-the-west-is-importing/

    I blame the hidjab! As long as some women cover and other don’t, ignorant menfolk don’t feel the need to change.
    So in my eyes women in hidjabs, burkinis, niqabs etc. are traitors towards their fellow sisters.

  26. Dear Admin,
    Why you are judging this by your personal values and standards?
    who has decided that the birkini is ‘ugly and uncomfortable to swim’? Not the people wearing it? It might look ugly to the onlookers because it does not reveal everything but then, do you mean ‘you’ will judge the beauty and ugliness of other people’s dress and put restrictions on them accordingly?

  27. Equal work, equal pay.
    50-50 Women-Men in everything.

    This battle (to burquini or not to burquini) must not be a battle of only men but women too.

    I think that is futile for men to do it alone. Women must “own” this revolution.

    If a women, citizen of a democratic country seems to CHOSE to be a slave.. she should be allowed? or forced to fight back?.. after all.. 50-50..

    She has the responsability to fight back.. she will have (statistically) more baby girls than boys..is her duty to NOT allow herself to be such an example for her babies..

    My 2c.
    There are millions of men who are willing to suport “her”.. just .. stand up and..fight.

  28. The reason that niqab, burka and burkini should be forbidden in ALL western countries is that they are sinister symbols of the disgusting ways, including honor-killings, that women are treated in far too many islamic states.
    Often this mal-treatment of muslim women by their husbands and brothers continues in their new, chosen country.
    It makes me very upset to see these “innocent” symbols of this mal-treatment paraded in democratic enligthened countries.

  29. Why, then, is it necessary to censor the burkini? In what remotely free society are the clothing choices of women proscribed based upon assumptions about why they make those choices?

    The proscription is draconian.

  30. There are a lot of assumptions in this whole discussion.

    The main reason most Muslim women cover up in public is not because their menfolk “force” them to, although that may be true for some; it is mostly because they want to.

    There is a rather good cartoon at the end of this article:


    I thought La belle France was about Liberté, égalité, fraternité? Or is it only Liberté pour moi, and not pour vous?

  31. i read a number of comments suggesting there is no where in the quran where muslim women are required to cover themselves and that it is enslavement by men.
    May I refer them to quran 33:59 which is translated by Yusif Ali thus:
    33.59 – O Prophet Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad): that is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested. And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, most Merciful.
    who is imposing the burqa on women in France? if you are talking about the Islamic countries and you argue that women are being forced to dress this way you may be right, but we are talking about women in France where there is freedom who chose to dress the way they chose.
    you are rather imposing nudity on the women against their will in the name of protecting them. if your system really believes in equality between men and women why do you think these women can not think independently of themselves and wear what they chose to wear to suit that occasion?

  32. I’m not muslim, have never been muslim and never plan to be. I have a Burkina and use it for swimming. It’s not like the one you have pictured in your photo. It’s very comfortable. I wear it to prevent blistering from the sunshine. France is free to ban them, but there’s more reason than religion to wear them.

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