Behold! The bathing suit that is making the French lose their minds. The "burkini" is swimwear that devout Muslim women can wear to enjoy time at the seashore without having to compromise their religious principles. Yet it is pushing some French people into foaming madness, forcing some mayors to ban the burkini from their beaches.
What is the issue? Obviously, this is backlash against recent attacks in France by extremist Muslims or their wannabe supporters. The attack in Paris in November 2015 killed 130 people at the Stade de France and the Bataclan theater. This past Bastille Day, 86 people were killed by a Muslim man driving a truck along the boardwalk in Nice. These were horrible attacks and condemned by everyone: secularist, Christian, Jew and Muslim alike.
Yet many wish to inflict pain on any Muslim they see.
The French already ban the hijab head covering in their schools, forcing young girls to abandon a sign of their devotion to God in order to get an education. Now, Muslims are being hounded at public beaches because they choose not to bare their bodies. Add to this the typical distrust, loss of jobs, funny looks and general nervousness that Muslims have to deal with daily, and it's no wonder that some of them feel alienated in their own countries, and find radical solutions attractive.
I heard a report on NPR this morning about a woman in Normandy complaining that Muslims don't integrate when they come to France. When they swim, they should wear a body-caring swimsuit like everyone else, she asserted. They should adopt French "values." Let me be clear: Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité are values; wearing a square foot of cloth when swimming is a coutume or custom. It seems to me that forcing people to wear certain clothing is the real offense against French values. How liberated, equal and fraternal do you feel when natives are breathing down your necks about your swimsuit, for God's sake?
Maybe it's time we re-examined our own slavish attachments to our bathing gear. It was barely 100 years ago that women in the US wouldn't be see baring so much as an ankle in public, They wore heavy, ankle-length skirts when climbing mountains or visiting beaches. Catholic nuns still wear burka-like habits at all times -- even at the seashore. The obsession with showing more and more female flesh is not a universal Western phenomenon. Frankly, only a small percentage of women and men look attractive (or plain decent) in bikinis and groin-grabbing speedos. The rest of us should feel free enough to doff or don enough protective layers as appropriate to our age and physique. I have seen enough fat hairy bellies and spandex-busting backsides to last a lifetime.
Maybe the ladies in burkinis are not threats, but leaders in a movement to reconsider our culture's own obsessions with feigned youthfulness, ubiquitous sexuality and conformity with uncomfortable clothing styles. I'm talking to you, high heels, push-up bras and botox!