The recent news of a woman who was asked to remove clothing, vaguely resembling a burkini, while sunbathing on a beach in Nice, France, has me in a bit of an uproar. That she was asked by four – FOUR – police officers, two of whom were wearing as much clothing as she was, and was threatened with pepper spray makes the incident – harassment – that much worse.
I live in a country and city where I can freely storm through the streets wearing a mankini like Borat. Although I’ve been asked, on several occasions, to do just that, I would never. Me doing so
would should cause more upheaval than the Muslim women who are simply enjoying a day at the beach, which, incidentally, is something I rarely, if ever, do. Hell, I’m indescribably reluctant to wear short pants and I never leave the house without at least two layers of shirts.
Let us not blame my modesty on my Islamic upbringing. It is the result of deeply ingrained body-image issues. Women, the world over, should never suffer the same. Those who choose to don a burkini should rock it.
You know what I can do while wearing a mankini? I can drive a truck through the streets – the very same streets that I would run down in my embellishing, yet scant, attire. My history of driving Uhauls attests to the poor decision-making people, who let me drive these already unsafe vehicles, take when riding shotgun during a trip to any furniture store we’ve been to together.
Interestingly, the clothing that these foolish people wear while gripping tightly to their seats and repeatedly slamming on the air-break has nothing to do with my confidence behind the wheel of a multi-axle vehicle with soft steering and loose suspension. Similarly, the burkini is not an indictment of terrorism, Islamic or otherwise.
The burqa and hijab are not tenets of Islam. They are cultural fabrications, which happen to be predominant in countries ascribing to Shariah law. Equating the two – Islam and the burqa – is the same as claiming that Crocs are sandals.
Let’s look at Western culture for a moment. The wedding veil was initially intended to, quite literally, hide the bride from the groom. In the age of arranged marriages, there was fear that the groom would not take kindly to the appearance of his bride. What of the man? Surely a gentleman, but how would he rate on Hot or Not? (I honestly had no idea that this was still a thing until I typed it into Google after writing that last sentence.) Any disappointment was likely spurned by the parents of the couple who saw power and prestige as the outcome of the matrimonial transaction. Oh, Emma.
Then there’s the pantsuit, a sartorial staple of women in power. Which, to my surprise, can be sexualized, being “incredibly sexy and chic when a woman wears it,” because she was once naked before putting it on. This, even though every man was once naked before putting on any suit, complete with bowtie and cummerbund.
What was Bill thinking? On a blue dress, really, Bill? Blue, too? Only the choice colour for girls fewer than a hundred years ago. Your lady at home has been wearing pantsuits for years. Years of detached crotch, Bill. Years.
And, what of the bikini, a commonly worn two-piece bathing suit donned by women on beaches the world over? It was worn in ancient Greece as a supportive device for athletic women, and it was transformed to popularity, in part, by a “nude dancer” in the mid-20th Century. The modern bikini was designed by a Frenchman, who was also an engineer happening to manage a lingerie business.
Not without controversy, it was banned in the French Atlantic coast, Spain, Belgium, Italy, Portugal, Australia, US states, and, after the first Miss World, in beauty pageants all over the world. Most of these countries tend to produce great wine. This can only be understood as an affront to Dionysian leisure.
Besides, how can a woman be reasonably expected to swim in a bikini or a burkini? I’ve yet to witness an Olympic medal carried around the neck of a woman in anything other than a swimsuit designed for maximum efficiency in the water. My first girlfriend, ever, was a competitive swimmer. She only shaved before meets. But, she shaved everything. So, I know some things about swimming.
Let’s now get back to the issue at hand: the wearing of a burkini, burqa, or hijab. In some Muslim cultures, it is understood as a symbol of modesty, albeit one doctored by many Imams who interpret the Quran – the Holy Book of Islam – and Hadiths – the recorded sayings of the Prophet Mohammed. The covering of a woman’s body is meant to symbolise the purity of a woman, removing objectification from the discourse. This, in my opinion, must be the result of the subjugation of women by men who are incapable of controlling their intrinsic animal urges.
Of course, even in the 21st Century, this – the subjugation of women – is, still, very much an issue. Lack of equal pay for equal work, rape, and chauvinism – among many other realities faced by women – are material truths. We continue to live in a sexist society. That a legislative branch can enact a bill banning the wearing of peculiar clothing justifies this. That women dressed in particular types of clothing can bring four executive officers to a beach is a testament to this.
This is not secularism. To be a secular society or government implies that your state functions without the influence of religion. France, by equating the burkini, burqa, or hijab, with Islamic terrorism, and thereby promoting Islamophobia, has relinquished its commitment to secularism. The ban on burkinis as a result of a delinquent truck driver who pledged allegiance to ISIS is a misappropriation of an ideal for a way of life.
Terrorism is not hidden under a veil, matrimonial or cultural. Terrorism, of the type France is attempting to protect itself from, is rooted in the insidious disenfranchisement it’s promoting through policy and unjudicial enforcement.
The shit of it is this: sometimes, you have to take the advice of the guy who tongue-kissed your high school girlfriend at a hot tub party. (Confidence unshaken, her and I experienced many, MANY, more pleasant interactions together after that.) This “classmate” of mine once told me that when you’re fighting someone bigger than you, the best thing you can do is to just give them a big hug. If you’re hugging them, they can’t hit you as hard because they don’t have the reach. I’m often reminded of this when I watch title matches. Still, this is advice I would gladly have taken during the preceding rougher years of my youth, but it still rings true today.
Islam, as a cultural and religious identity, if that’s what she’s fighting, is larger than France. Putting her dukes up is likely to lead to a beating she can’t take. France needs to hug her opponent and come to grips with the gentle behemoth. “Islam” is understood to mean peace, submission, and obedience. Islam is a gentle giant.
Right now, France is fighting with an open palm and her eyes closed, swinging ineffectively at a target she feels only wisps of.
It’s time to lift the veil and open our eyes. We, as a global society, need to take a stance against the forces that allowed for Sacha Baron Cohen to effectively create characters like Ali G, Borat, and Bruno. If I can freely wear a mankini without fear of prejudice, then any article of clothing can be worn by anyone without fear of reprisal.
The burkini is just, and only, beachwear.