With widespread burqini bans, French laïcité may have finally jumped the shark

Quick question, Canadian islamophobes: If I told you that a government was enforcing a dress code for women (and women only) for the sake of “respecting good morals”, because if women wear what they please it might “draw a crowd and disrupt public order”, and thus the government was enacting this legislation to “protect those women”… would you stand behind such a law?

No? Okay, how about if I expand on some those quotes a bit – it’s not just about “respecting good morals”, it’s about “respecting good morals and secularism”; there’s your buzzword! – and told you that the clothing being banned is the “burqini” – the swimwear designed to comply with Islamic standards of modesty.Now where do you stand?

France may have finally done it. They may have finally taken their idiosyncratic brand of quote-unquote “secularism” – laïcité – too far. Oh, they’ve been a moth buzzing around the crazy flame for years. But now they may have finally crossed the line to the point where even laïcité’s former cheerleaders are walking back their enthusiasm. And the straw that may have finally broken that jackass back may be the banning of the burqini.

Let’s just review the last couple of weeks.

The current flap started innocuously. About two weeks ago, a Muslim women’s group became the centre of a raging controversy. Their crime? They tried to book a private water park for a day.

People… lost… their… shit. The women’s group received death threats – including letters sent with pictures of bullets. Politicians responded by ordering the event cancelled… for the women’s “protection” of course, at least officially. However, many politicians from all over the political spectrum were quite vocal about how the event should have been banned anyway on “principle”, because the group represents Islamic extremism… apparently by virtue of merely being Islamic.

You think I’m joking? Or maybe leaving key details out? Nope. Here, I’ll tell you everything.

First let me introduce you to this allegedly Islamo-fascist group that represents the face of terrorism, according to the French. The name of this supposedly extremist, terrorist-aligned group… and I swear, I shit you not… is: SMILE 13.

[The logo consists of a yellow happy face, with pink lipstick, and one eye formed from a crescent and the other from a star in a way that looks like winking. The text SMILE 13 is written along side in neon pink, in a typeface designed to look like a young girl's whimsical handwriting.].

This is the face of Islamic extremism, according to French officials.

SMILE stands for Les Soeurs Marseillaises Initiatrices de Loisirs et d’Entraide. Loosely translated: The Marseille Sisters for Well-being and Mutual assistance. According to their Google Sites page, the organization was born out of a desire to bring women together for sport and leisure, to encourage them to engage in joint activities, and to contribute to their life development. The aspects they want to develop are:

  • social;
  • cultural;
  • athletic; and
  • professional.

And as we all know, there’s nothing Islamic extremists want more than to bring women together for fun and leisure, and to have them develop social and professional connections. Sarcasm.

SMILE 13’s primary goal is to organize “access to water”, presumably for women who don’t feel comfortable swimming with other genders. They arrange things like water aerobics, aquabiking, spa visits, and so on. As part of this mandate, they organized a private day for themselves, planned for September 10th, at Speedwater Park in Les Pennes-Mirabeau, just north of Marseille.

Now, SMILE 13 does ask members generally to dress “modestly” for these swim events. In their own words:

.NOTA BENE

J’invite les sœurs qui participeront à avoir un bon comportement ; cad avoir une tenue adéquate (pas de maillot 2 pièce les parties du haut du buste au genoux doivent être cachés), même si nous sommes qu’entre filles nous allons pas aller à un défilé de mode lol préservez vous autant des femmes que des hommes mais soyez à l’aise quand même on est là pour se détendre rencontrer des soeurs ou venir avec des amies pour avoir une petite parenthèse de notre quotidien.

.NOTA BENE

I invite the sisters who participate to have proper comportment; that is, to have proper attire (no 2 piece swimsuit – the parts from the upper bust to the knees should be covered), even if we are just among girls we are not going to a fashion show lol preserve yourself as much from women as from men but be comfortable as we are there to relax to meet sisters or to come with friends to have a small break from our daily lives.

The Speedwater Park event was apparently going to have the same dress code, under the logic that although the event was to be women-only (though boys under 10 would be allowed), there would be male lifeguards on duty.

Also, they apparently made a comment about bikinis leading to rape on their Facebook page.

Now, there’s no doubt that these attitudes are both ignorant and backward… but they’re not terrorism. Nor are they even “extremism” by any sane definition of the word. I see no sign that SMILE 13 advocates that other women should cover themselves the same way that women in the group do. They’re just a quirky little group that has some silly beliefs that harm no one, and they want the right to practise those beliefs. And they do provide a praiseworthy service, allowing women who otherwise would never be able to participate in exercise or leisure activities in the water to do so.

Buuuuut, they’re Muslim. So, of course the bigots went apeshit.

SMILE 13 was bombarded with hate mail and death threats, and politicians lined up to rant about how they were “shocked and angered” by the event (that was Le Pennes-Mirabeau mayor Michel Amiel), about how it was a “threat to public order” and a “provocation” (both Amiel again), how the burqini “tramples on secular values” (Le Pennes-Mirabeau deputy mayor Dominique Bucci) and how it represents “communitarianism” (mayor of Marseille Jean-Claude Gaudin, and Florian Philippot, adviser to Marine Le Pen of the National Front). (Oh, how I’d love to question these bozos who rage so much against “divisiveness” and “tribal attitudes” about their opinions on France’s position in the global community.)

With all the hate being slung at them, SMILE 13 didn’t complain all that much when the city put the kibosh on the event. They were, after all, in legitimate fear for their lives. It took just one day of Islamophobic rage before the park and the city caved, and shut the event down. The official announcement explained that the decision was simply because neither the city nor the park wanted to be ground zero for a showdown between quote-unquote “extreme ideological positions”. But unofficially, politicians banged the drum about sticking it to them damn dirty Muslims. For example, the senator for the area, Stéphane Ravier, called the cancellation – done in the face of death threats, remember – a “victory for the patriots”.

Good job, patriots. You stopped a bunch of women from having fun at a water park. Score one for… “freedom”?

So far we already have a pretty tragic story of bigotry and death threats triumphing over reason and tolerance – par for the course these days in France – but this story is just getting started.

A couple weeks before this fiasco exploded, the city of Cannes banned the burqini at public beaches and pools. The ban came just two weeks after the truck attack in nearby Nice (a third of the victims were apparently Muslim, but don’t let that dampen your rage, Islamophobes!), and two days after the Daesh-sanctioned murder of Jacques Hamel. But if you can find any link between those events and burqinis, I’d love to hear it.

But the lack of any meaningful connection between the burqini ban and the recent terrorist attacks in France is just the tip of the bullshitberg.

Here’s what is apparently a translation of the actual ordinance text, according to the New York Times:

Beach attire that ostentatiously displays a religious affiliation, while France and places of worship are the target of terrorist acts, is likely to create risks to public order.

“But, but, but,” I hear you say, “if ‘places of worship’ are under attack… what’s wrong with people showing solidarity by wearing their symbols?” Oh, come now, I say in reply; we all know that the only “religious affiliation” they have any intention of banning is Muslim.

Think I’m not being fair? David Lisnard, the mayor of Cannes, literally said he was not banning the veil, the kippa, or the cross on city beaches. Just the burqini.

But… why the burqini? Why… beaches? Why is that where you want to draw the front lines in the fight against quote-unquote “Islamic extremism”? It just makes no… fucking… sense.

And it only goes downhill from there. It’s not like the burqini is an ancient, traditional Islamic garment. As near as I can tell, it was invented sometime in the early 2000s. So… what, you think Muslim women just never went to the beach before this millennium? Or you think that before the burqini, they went to the beach in string bikinis and thought nothing of it? Of course the fuck not. Before the bikini they did what many women – Muslim and non-Muslim – have always done and continue to do even today: They wear pants and a T-shirt over their bathing suit.

But that’s not banned, of course.Just the burqini.

Which only further highlights the hypocrisy of the ban. Some of the ban’s supporters have claimed, la-di-dah, that the ban is for… safety reasons. Because, brace yourself, effecting a water rescue is harder because of the burqini’s loose fabric. You see? It’s all really about protecting Muslim women!

Only, duh, no. Swimming in a T-shirt and sweatpants is orders of magnitude more dangerous than in a burqini. The burqini was specifically invented to be safer than that alternative. It’s made of the same material as one-piece maillot bathing suits, which is way lighter in water than cotton or wool. And it’s not as loose as a T-shirt or sweatpants. If these bigots were really serious about women’s safety, they would not ban the burqini, they would ban swimming in T-shirts and sweatpants and require the burqini as their alternative. (And they’d ban baggy board shorts, and require all men to wear Speedos, for that matter.) Or hey, why not ban string bikinis, or bathing suits with string ties at the top, because those can come loose and and entangle rescuers or become wrapped around someone’s neck and strangle them in an emergency? Yeah, good luck banning string bikinis in Cannes.

So the “it’s for the women’s safety” argument is obviously bullshit. What about the “public order” argument?

The basis for that claim is that if a woman wears a burqini, it could incite hatred in the people around her, resulting in a riot or something. And there have been real incidents of women in burqinis being harassed and even attacked by people on French beaches. Then again, there have been plenty of incidents of women (and men, for that matter) being attacked merely for “looking Muslim” (oh, but there’s no such thing as Islamophobia, right, bigots? Fuck you). So this is hardly something specific to the burqini.

But let’s take the claim seriously for a moment. The logic behind this “concern” is that, when faced with overt and public acts of bigotry and hatred and the intimidation of innocent French citizens by gangs of racists, the response of French authorities is not to protect the victims… it’s to protect the racists. In fact, this is the underlying logic whenever you hear justification for banning religious symbols because the sight of them “offends”; and this justification was shamelessly used by proponents of the Québec Charter of Values. Somehow it makes sense to these people to ban religious symbols because it upsets non-religious people… yet they clearly understand how wrong it is to ban public signs of gay affection because it upsets homophobes. What can I say? Bigots are not really big on coherency in their reasoning.

So the “safety” argument is bullshit. The “public order” argument is bullshit. Let’s get to the bit that we knew we were eventually going to end up at: religious affiliation.

We all know that “religious affiliation” here is code for “Muslim”. Let’s not kid ourselves. This law is not about secularism, on any level. It’s not even about laïcité, though it’s clearly inspired by it. It’s specifically about sticking it to Muslims.

And yet… the law is so… fucking… stupid… that it fails to even do that! Take a look at the picture below.

[A photo of Nigella Lawson in a black burqini cavorting in the surf with her friend Maria McErlane (who is wearing a bikini).]

Nigella Lawson, terrorizing French politicians.

The woman in the burqini is British celebrity chef Nigella Lawson. And no, she’s not a Muslim. She’s wearing the burqini to protect her sensitive skin from the Australian sun.

So riddle me this, bigots: Should she be allowed to wear a burqini at Cannes? The law prohibits beachwear that “ostentatiously” displays a “religious affiliation”. That beachwear is, in fact, not displaying a religious affiliation; Lawson is not Muslim. That beachwear is, in fact, protective clothing; Lawson is wearing it specifically to avoid sunburn. So, bigots, should she get the €38 fine? If not, why should a Muslim woman who is wearing the same outfit for the same reason… that is, a woman who happens to be Muslim, but is wearing the burqini not for religious reasons, but to prevent sunburn? Or skin cancer? Well, bigots? You care more about sticking it to Muslims than you do about women protecting themselves from skin cancer? Then explain the logic here.

The law just doesn’t fucking work. It’s fucking stupid, and that’s most profound thing there is to say about it. No law that targets something, otherwise innocuous, for religious or anti-religious reasons will ever work. The law clearly isn’t about the burqini; it’s clearly just about giving the finger to Muslims.

And even if you’re idiotic enough to try to argue that that’s good – that Muslims deserve to be flipped off by the French for what they’ve done to France recently – let me point out that these measures are actually more likely to create extremists than to actually bother any… for the simple reason that real Muslim extremists don’t tolerate burqinis anway!

[A photo of a model posing sitting on the beach in a blue burqini.]

This is not what Islamic extremism looks like.

Real Muslim extremists – of the type you’d find in Saudi Arabia and the ranks of Daesh – don’t tolerate women swimming at beaches with men in any case. That’s for the logical reason that no matter how baggy you make the swimsuit, once it gets wet it’s going to cling to the figure. The burqini doesn’t solve that problem.

So what you’re accomplishing by targeting women who wear burqinis is not actually sticking it to the terrorists and their supporters. You’re sticking it to the Muslims who have met secular, Western society half-way. And which way do you think they’ll go as a result? Is it a) “well, they’re banning the burqini… guess I’ll just start going to the beach topless, the French way!” or b) “clearly my attempts to integrate with ‘French society’ aren’t working, through no fault of my own… yet these more radical Muslims are reaching out to me with open arms… hmm.”

So the burqini ban:

  • doesn’t actually target Islam – though not for lack of trying, because non-Muslims wear burqinis too;
  • doesn’t actually target extremism – in fact, it targets moderates instead;
  • doesn’t actually protect women from anything – and in fact, does the opposite;
  • doesn’t actually make the beaches safer – in fact, it rewards thuggery and harassment; and
  • doesn’t actually make sense on any level – every excuse the bigots try to smear on it just won’t stick.

At first, Cannes was more or less alone with its burqini ban. But in the aftermath of the SMILE fiasco, other cities have been rushing to implement similar bans. There are now at least eight cities in France that have either banned the burqini, or are trying to.

And, perhaps most shockingly, a lower court actually upheld the bans! If you want to see just how stupid a judge would have to be to do that, here’s an actual (translated) quote:

The wearing of distinctive clothing, other than that usually worn for swimming, can indeed only be interpreted in this context as a straightforward symbol of religiosity.

But… I just… a half-dozen paragraphs up… Nigella Lawson… for skin protection… not a symbol of…. Oh, you know what? Fuck you, France. Je suis washing my hands of your shit.

So France has gone off the deep end with their Islamophobia. I don’t think there’s any arguing that at this point. But France’s antipathy toward Muslims has always been lauded by our local Islamophobes. So, the obvious question for Canadian atheists is… how is the burqini ban playing in Québec?

Yes, I said Québec; Canada’s problem child when it comes to xenophobia. Québec is not only the proud source of a solid chunk of Canada’s Islamophobia, it’s what Canadian Islamophobes in general point to as the shining example we should all learn our brown-people-bigotry from.

Québec, in turn, looks fondly to French bigotry for inspiration. So how is Québec responding to this latest example?

Well, it turns out that France may have actually gone too far this time. Even Québécois politicians are… a little skittish about what’s going on. That may be because the Parti Québécois got the piss beat out of them at the last election, and are in hiding licking their wounds, and the Liberals… well, Liberals in general are not exactly known for taking clear or strong positions on anything that doesn’t benefit them specifically.

Justice Minister Stephanie Vallee came right out and said women have the right to their beliefs and can dress how they want, though International Relations Minister Christine St-Pierre was more evasive. She called the issue delicate, and noted that it would be very, very difficult to ban the burqini in Canada, blaming it on our (and Québec’s) Charter of Rights and Freedoms. She is correct in that; neither Charter would have much truck with a burqini ban – certainly not with the “reasons” given. She also made noise about how we have to ask ourselves whether we want to force women to stay isolated at home (the answer is: of course the fuck not, Christine… geez). Oh, but do savour the irony that both these politicians – who are oh, so concerned about the implications of policing women’s clothing – are enthusiastically pushing a bill that will… you guessed it… police women’s clothing. Gotta love Québec.

Unfortunately, I can’t find any comment from PQ representatives (but just wait, they’ll open their noise holes soon enough), but the Coalition Avenir Québec has weighed inMP Nathalie Roy dropped this brain turd on the topic:

It is a very serious symbol. It represents hiding a woman’s body. Accepting the burqini is admitting that a woman’s body is an object of temptation and that it must disappear at all costs.

Why is it that the worst bigots feel that it’s their obligation to define the meaning of symbols they hate, and that the meaning they come up with must be the universal truth accepted by all?

I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if some of the most vocal Canadian Islamophobic bigots and Charter of Values supporters would want to disassociate themselves from the shitshow going in France now – never mind how much they cheered the slightly less idiotic measures France has enacted in the past. This burqini ban is just too clearly idiotic, even for idiots. But the thing is… this is exactly what they wanted. France’s burqini ban hasn’t come out of left field, wholly unrelated to its previous anti-Muslim measures. This is the logical extension of what they’ve done before – the same things our local bigots and CoV cheerleaders took example from. You think I’m being unfair? Then tell me: What exactly was it that the CoV called for? Was it not the banning of quote-unquote “ostentatious religious symbols” from public service employees? If it was going to ban turbans and hijabs from doctors, teachers, and bus drivers… do you not think it would also ban burqinis from lifeguards and other employees at public pools and beaches?

[A photo of Australian lifeguard Mecca Laa Laa, wearing her professional burqini, sitting on a rescue board that is being hoisted by her colleagues.]

Yes, there are lifeguards who wear burqinis.

Oh, but you probably think the key point is that it would only ban the burqini from women actually working for the government on beaches, and not regular beach goers? (Though, I do have to point out that several of you did advocate for a complete ban on religious symbols in public places, whether worn by employees or not… and the current bill being pushed in Québec does actually ban certain religious accessories from everyone in government offices, not just employees.) Then I would have to ask… all of the inanity, irrationality, and stupidity in the reasoning for banning burqinis that I’ve spent this entire post outlining… do you really believe all of that magically goes away when you’re only applying the ban to lifeguards, and not general beach goers?

The burqini ban is not a lightning-bolt, out-of-left-field measure. It is exactly what the path of the CoV leads to. It is stupid, irrational, and unjustified for precisely the same reasons, and no, it doesn’t magically become reasonable when you just apply it to the lifeguards.

It is high time for Canadian secularists not poisoned by Islamophobic bigotry – or bigotry against religion in general (and note, “bigotry” means irrational dislike… rational dislike of religion is, well, rational) – to vocally repudiate attempts to conflate secularism with such bigotry. It is high time for us to draw a clear line between reasoned secularism and laïcité and other ideologies that masquerade as secularism. It is high time we stood up and clarified why using the law to harass the religious merely because they annoy the non-religious is no more secularism than using it to harass the non-religious for merely annoying believers.

Secularism is removing the influence of religion from all aspects of decision-making by the state. That means both positive influence and negative influence. That means the state cannot do things merely because they favour any religion or religions… and they can’t do things merely because they hinder any religion or religions.

We have a good thing going for us here in Canada. We have a body of laws that strongly supports secularism, and a judiciary that truly understands it. Clearly we can’t look to the French for guidance on secularism… they’ve gone batshit crazy with the anti-clericalism in general, and anti-Islam in particular. We can’t look to the US either… they’ve got a decent body of laws, but their courts wouldn’t know secularism if it slapped them in the face. We, Canada, need to take the initiative, forge our own path toward secularism, and become the global leadership in the field; an example for others to follow. And we’re already doing a damn decent job of that.

The burqini ban is the canary in the coal mine for French/European secularism; even Québec thinks they’ve gone too far. Let’s wash our hands of their crap, and do secularism right; let’s do secularism the Canadian way.

And for fuck’s sake, let’s just stop harassing Muslim women, and trying to strip them down for our viewing pleasure. Let’s just let them have fun at the beach.

15 thoughts on “With widespread burqini bans, French laïcité may have finally jumped the shark

  1. Wow!

    I’m just wondering if you could make yourself any clearer on what you really mean.
    /sarcasm

  2. The problem with the word Islamophobia is that it conflates legitimate criticism of Islam with anti-Muslim bigotry.

    • Similar to criticizing Israel being thrown in the same water as anti-Israel.

    • That same “problem” plagues every useful word. You could make the same case for “racism”, “sexism”, even something as generic as “abuse”.

      It’s just standard practice for people engaging in some unpleasant practice to try to co-opt the language being used to criticize them and turn it back on their accusers. It’s routine for racists to accuse people of pointing out their racism of being racist. The whole “men’s rights movement” is predicated on the silly idea that pointing out sexism is sexist. “Militant atheism”. Etc. etc.

      The solution in any of these cases is never just to give up the criticism of the wrongdoers. The solution is simply to clearly define the term, and call out the people who are using it wrong. The definition of “Islamophobia” is “irrational fear or hatred of Islam or its practitioners”. If someone is doing legitimate criticism of Islam, they’re not being irrational, so the accusation of Islamophobia is bullshit and the accuser needs to be called out for their dishonesty. QED.

      We do desperately need the word “Islamophobia”, because the phenomenon is not only real, it’s horrifyingly widespread. We have people being accosted on the streets – even here in Canada – merely for *looking* Muslim. This burqini ban is another blatant example. We have a *serious* problem, and we need a word to describe it. And the fact that Islamophobes react so badly to the word is evidence that it’s an effective one.

      • I understand what you are saying.

        But:

        Muslim enthusiasts hate the rational criticism of Islam the most. Rational criticism displays a determined defiance against submission.

  3. Secularism isn’t the ultimate goal for Free Thinkers.

    Ridding the world of authoritative poetry is.

    Banning the burqini may not be worthwhile: agreed.

    Ridiculing the burqini is probably even more disruptive.

    Convincing people to quit using that stupid pejorative “islamophobes” would be a more worthwhile exorcise.

    Banning the burkini is probably thought of as a long term effort to prevent the cultural enforcement of burkini wearing from gaining a permanent foothold on their Mediterranean beaches.

    As you point out, women are being needlessly persecuted for the archaic ideas of their segregated community. What I am suggesting is that ridiculing this archaic revivalism is probably even more fraught with danger.

    There are tens of thousands of young Canadians buried over there because of our shameful blundering into European wars. Stifling the growth of bad archaic ideas here in Canada isn’t a popular activity for our democratically elected officials. They just love interactions with goofy, self-possessed, tribal leaders. It lets them experience a feeling of superiority. It doesn’t do anything for the young Canadians who are growing up under archaic coercions.

  4. Too long … didn’t read. You can’t compete against the Closing Ceremonies, dude.

    All I can say is that French laïcité (and increasingly, other European governments) are FINALLY doing the right thing.

    Liberalism means nothing if you welcome in cultures that actively oppose it, and seek to undermine it.

  5. Quick question, Canadian WifeBeater, if I ask you if you still beat your wife, would you have enough introspection to understand the point?

    Well WifeBeater, if a woman wants to look stupid at the beach or swimming pool, that’s her prerogative.
    When she is forced to wear it or get beaten or murdered by her husband or father, or forced to wear it because of other undue influences because she’s isolated, kept ignorant, been raised without benefit of schooling other than a complete focus on memorizing the Koran then it’s the governments concern, Canadian WifeBeater.

    In the same way it was for Quebec and Ontario when ultra-orthodox Jews were found to be not teaching their children anything but their religious texts. In the same way it was for the Texan Christians who refused to keep their children in school because “The rapture is coming and they won’t need no schoolin.”

    No rights are absolute, including the right to wear what you want where you want. Rights compete. Right, Canadian WifeBeater?

  6. Told y’all a long time ago, all of this headscarf bashing ain’t about saving the women, it’s about sweeping the visual sources of guilty conscience inducement back behind the fence.

    You guys prove it every day. And feel smug about your little cheap tricks, that end up costing more than you thought they would.

  7. Relevant link: A few days ago, Ricochet’s Céline Hequet published an essay in French about the burqini ban and its relation to feminism titled « Burkini: qui libère qui et de quel droit? ».

    That essay has now been translated, and is available as “Hey France, your burkini ban is shitty feminism”.

  8. Yes, now by law women on the beach must be greater than 85% uncovered.

    Certainly none of this caused by a completely bungled global political structure. Only the muslims are to blame.

    As long as we ban prudes, everything in the world will be fixed.

  9. Pingback: The cowardly, lazy notion that liberalism cannot tolerate dissent – Indi in the Wired

  10. Great. So France’s “Top Administrative Court” has ruled that the burqini ban is illegal (for one town).

    Now we can predictably expect with 100% certainty that the firebrands among us will claim all our liberal laws should be repealed because the muslims have somehow managed to ingeniously engineer the new next level weaponry in magically unassailable methods of “using our own laws against us”, in our existential war against their plans for total global dominion.

    Logic by repetition. Obviously not underpinned by wider political agendas.

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