Banning The Burqa And Burkini Is Not The Correct Liberal Response To Conservative Islam

Free Speech - Say No To Burqas - Burkini - Mural

In a liberal democracy, government has no business dictating what clothing is or is not acceptable to wear – and banning the burqa or burkini only further delays the long-overdue day of reckoning between conservative Islam and modern Muslim women

France is now taking its official ban of the burqa one step further, as the mayor of Cannes announces a ban on burkini beachwear on the grounds that the concealing garment poses a security risk.

The New York Times reports:

The mayor of the French resort city of Cannes has barred women from bathing on public beaches in swimsuits that reveal too little skin.

At issue are the full-body, head-covering garments worn in the water by some Muslim women, which have been nicknamed burkinis, an amalgam of burqa and bikini. The mayor’s ban has drawn protests from French Muslims who say it is discriminatory.

That the debate is occurring on the Riviera, the Mediterranean vacation area that has been on edge since the terrorist attack on a Bastille Day celebration in nearby Nice, has only added to the controversy.

Critics of the ban say it risks deepening rifts with France’s Muslims. It is the latest example of the long-running tensions between France’s forceful — some say inconsistent — commitment to secularism and the desire of many Muslims to express traditional values like modesty through their attire.

The mayor’s ordinance, which runs until Aug. 31, bars people from entering or swimming at the city’s public beaches in attire that is not “respectful of good morals and secularism” and that does not respect “rules of hygiene and security.” Offenders risk a fine of 38 euros, or about $42.

Why are burkinis against the rules? “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,” the ordinance says.

If this were being done in a public place on the grounds of security, the mayor of Cannes would be in a much stronger position, and would gain this blog’s sympathy, particularly after the appalling terrorist truck attack in Nice on Bastille Day. There is a very logical and powerful argument to be made against the prohibition on wearing any overtly concealing clothing when entering public buildings such as town halls, courts, public schools, parks or beaches, just as motorcycle owners are asked to remove their helmets before entering a bank branch.

But the mayor of Cannes has taken this action with specific reference not to security, but in the name of  laïcité (the separation of church and state). We know this because French government officials have explicitly said so:

This costume [the burkini], Mr Lisnard [the mayor] declared, “ostentatiously displays religious affiliation”, could “disrupt public order”, and might even, in the words of one official, demonstrate “an allegiance to terrorist movements”.

Now secular government is broadly a very good thing, and societies become more free as they cast off the remaining vestiges of theocracy – one of the reasons that this blog is so keen to get rid of the Lords Spiritual and remove Britain from Iran’s company as the only countries where unelected theocrats sit in the legislature by right.

However, while citizens – even those of faith – should absolutely demand secularism from their government, it does not follow that the government can unjustly impose secularism on the people as they go about their lives. That would be a grave wrong, and the growing movement to ban the burqa represents an abuse of power by governments against their own citizens.

The Telegraph’s Juliet Samuel agrees:

Now it’s hard to muster much enthusiasm for the burkini. It harks back to an age, still dominant in much of the world, when a woman’s worth was measured by her modesty. It belongs to a belief system in which women cannot experience one of the joys of the natural world – feeling the wind and sea on her body. It suggests that the female form is shameful and provocative. But those who want to ban the burkini for these reasons are forgetting one of the most important values of a free society: we don’t all have to believe the same thing in order to live together.

Every day, thousands of Britons wake up and do things I think are crazy and wrong. They drink instant coffee, listen to Magic FM and wear Spandex. Some wear high heels or bowties. Others have plastic surgery, get tattoos, cheat on their spouses, drink too much, shout too much and vote Labour. They get their news from Facebook and watch hours of trashy TV. Many of them pray to a god, convert to Buddhism, believe in crystal healing or sing in Church on Sundays with their eyes closed and their arms in the air. I don’t do or understand any of these things. But I let them get on with it.

[..] Like a theocratic regime, the Cannes burkini ban forces some Muslim women to choose between their religious and their national identity and perniciously suggests that their choice of dress is a political statement, whether they mean it to be or not. It is unsurprising that the French should lead the way in this kind of thinking, because in France nothing is allowed until the law permits it, whereas in Britain, everything is allowed until the law forbids it. So, in the name of enforced secularism, France forbids covering the face in any public setting, whether it’s for religion or Hallowe’en, and bans religious symbols like hijabs (hair coverings) in state institutions such as schools. The burkini ban takes this illiberal trend even further by making it illegal to wear “ostentatious” religious symbols even when going about one’s own private business.

[..] A normal Muslim, who has grown up seeing a hijab as an unremarkable but important symbol of womanhood, finds herself forced to choose between respect for the law and her family’s everyday customs. Is this senseless, banal and brutal ban more likely to awaken a hidden feminist creed and a love of La République in her heart or to make her feel attacked and excluded from mainstream society?

Strong societies cannot permit parallel legal or political systems, such as Sharia courts or caliphates. But they can cope with differences in dress and customs. They should not allow obstructive religious clothing like face‑coverings to disrupt teaching or court hearings. But if a Muslim woman wants to wear a baggy wetsuit and go for a swim on a public beach, that does not make her a threat to Western society. The real enemies of freedom are not the burkini-wearers, but the politicians who want to ban them.

Amen to this. Samuel is quite right to fear the politicians over the burkini-wearers, even if we may disagree with their sartorial and religious motivations. Indeed, we should fear any further legitimisation of the idea that our rights derive from the state, who can suspend our freedoms at will in the name of “security”.

One of the most alarming things about this century has been the rejuvenation of authoritarianism, spurred on by the growing threat of Islamist terror. Whether it is manifested in airport security theatre, the banning of religious jewellery or other symbols from the workplace or the dystopian suppression of free speech in universities, public squares and social media, we have become markedly less free in sixteen years with precious little to show for it.

But more than all of that, if we are serious about tackling the skewed ideology and belief system which preaches that women must be modest to the point of having to bathe fully clothed, then a government ban is the absolute worst way to go.

Such a diktat of law effectively exonerates conservative Islam (or fundamentalists of other religions) from any responsibility to reform and recognise the equality of women, gay people and other minority groups. Ban the burqa (or burkini) and conservative Muslims may obey. But not only will they immediately be able to portray themselves as victims in the process, claiming persecution for their religious beliefs, they will be under no further internal pressure to reconsider and reform centuries-old religious diktats in the changed context of modern society.

If we want a world where the burqa is relegated to fringe extremists and museums, then the pressure must come primarily from Muslim women. Only when they demand their right to dress as they please and force the reluctant accommodation of religious authorities will they be able to win the parity of treatment which has been missing for so long.

The job of Western governments in all of this is not to interfere or seek to be a white knight, banning the burqa or burkini on the behalf of oppressed women. Government’s role is to make sure that Muslim women have full access to the legal system to sue for their equal treatment in court where it is being infringed, and to clamp down insidious efforts to set up parallel justice systems based on Sharia law or any other religious code instead of shamefully welcoming them in the name of “multiculturalism”.

We should be encouraging a more liberal form of Islam to prevail over the more oppressive and fundamentalist conservative wings. We need more Ahmadis and others like them, openly tolerant of other faiths and proudly patriotic. And when these groups of progressive Muslims are attacked we should stand shoulder to shoulder with them rather than shamefully currying favour with their persecutors in the name of “multiculturalism”.

But ultimately, this is an internal enlightenment which must take place within Islam. It is not the job of provincial mayors in France or government departments in Britain to “rescue” their female Muslim citizens from oppression; nor would any such rescue hold any legitimacy. Western society can take certain actions to encourage this revolution among its Muslim communities, but ultimately the heavy lifting must be done by Muslim women standing up to claim their own full rights as citizens.

Widespread bans on the burqa or burkini may make us feel good or even allow some of us to burnish our feminist credentials, but that is the only good that they will accomplish. And meanwhile, the long-overdue day of reckoning between modern Muslim women and the conservative wing of the Islamic faith will be deferred indefinitely, to everyone’s cost.

 

Burkini ban

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A Failed Military Coup In Turkey Is The Worst Possible Outcome For Democracy

People react near a military vehicle during an attempted coup in Ankara

This failed military coup has achieved the awful outcome of allowing Turkey’s tin pot dictator in gestation, the despicable President Erdogan and his supporters, to pose as champions of the very democracy they are busy subverting

Nobody in their right mind usually yearns for a military coup – the violence, confusion, civilian casualties, suspension of justice, martial law and human rights abuses which occur in the best of times are nothing to welcome, no matter how odious the status quo.

But once it became clear that a military coup was underway in Turkey, involving at least a subset of the military, it were better for that coup to succeed with as little bloodshed as possible than to have it fail.

Why? Because if you thought President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was bad before, just wait until paranoid, vengeful President Erdogan 2.0 is unleashed once he has finished putting down the coup and reasserting control over his divided country.

This is a vain and power-hungry little man who was at one desperate point last night reduced to addressing his nation via FaceTime, through an iPhone screen pointed at a television camera. He will not have taken kindly to this humiliation, and his vengeance will be swift and merciless.

President Erdogan was already well on the way to tin-pot dictator status, jailing critical journalists and political opponents, seizing control of independent critical newspapers and turning them into pro-government propaganda outlets, violently suppressing popular protests, subverting the constitution and building himself a palace fit for a king. All of this will now be accelerated.

As Mark Wallace rightly warns in Conservative Home:

If you thought he was a paranoid tyrant before, you ain’t seen nothing yet.  Erdogan was already throwing his weight around – jailing journalists, seizing control of critical newspapers, sending riot police in to fight protests and so on. But now he has a concrete threat which he can use to justify any and all repressive measures. The odds are that we will now see even tougher clampdowns which sadly will extend will beyond those actually responsible and likely sweep up many targets whom the government finds it convenient to be rid of.

Worse still from a secular standpoint, the military’s bluff has now been called. Turkey’s military has historically served as a firewall, a last line of defence against creeping Islamism and theocratic control. While details of this coup attempt have yet to fully emerge – it may be the case that these events were plotted only by one specific subset of the military – it now appears that the military has gambled and lost. It is hard to see them serving their pro-secular role in future, especially once Erdogan has made further personnel changes, replacing the current general staff with his stooges.

This failed coup attempt is also bad news for everyone else who relies on Turkey being a moderately stable presence in the region, and a trustworthy negotiating partner. Erdogan already had the European Union over a barrel with its pants down, extorting huge sums of money from European taxpayers in exchange for taking the smallest of actions to stem the flow of migrants and refugees entering the EU via Turkey. Expect that price to go up (while Turkey’s commitment to abiding by its agreement goes down) now that Erdogan feels the need to shore up his own position.

But the truly depressing thing about this failed military coup is the fact that it allows an utterly despicable and contemptible man and his hardcore supporters to parade around like the champions of democracy when in fact they are its sworn enemies. Erdogan himself once remarked that he views democracy as akin to getting on a bus, and that once the bus reaches its destination he will get off – in other words, he will submit himself to taking part in elections until he has built up a sufficient power base, and then kill Turkish democracy in the crib so that he can never be removed.

Already in the early hours of the morning, when it appeared that the coup attempt was failing, we saw Erdogan’s supporters wrap themselves in the flag of democracy:

Sadly, some in Britain who should know better – including the normally reliable Brendan O’Neill – joined in the same chorus:

The events cited by O’Neill – the establishment’s horror at Brexit, the Islamist terrorist slaughter of innocent people in Nice on Bastille Day and this failed coup in Turkey – are hardly comparable. While the first two do indeed represent the hatred held by some people for popular liberal democracy, President Erdogan is no great believer in liberal democracy, using it as a vehicle when it helps him but quick to suppress it when it represents a threat to his interests.

The danger is that by ennobling Erdogan’s survival by lumping it together with legitimate democratic movements (like Brexit) we help to shore up the power of somebody who is no friend of democracy, and who fully intends to snuff out democracy altogether once he has used it to drag Turkey back to some primitive, theocratic dark age.

This really is the worst of all possible outcomes. Military coups are never something to be celebrated, even when aimed at deposing someone as unpleasant as Erdogan – his defeat should come at the ballot box, not at the barrel of a tank gun. But a failed coup is doubly bad since it weakens the military, hardens Erdogan’s supporters and makes the man himself even more paranoid and authoritarian – there are already talks of Turkey reinstating the death penalty to deal with the plotters.

Whichever side had prevailed in this coup attempt, democracy would have been the nominal loser. But democracy’s defeat will be particularly bitter now that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stands strengthened and victorious.

 

Postscript: The failed coup in Turkey also seems to have brought out the worst in several British politicians, notably Labour MP Chris Bryant who thought that turmoil in Turkey provided a perfect opportunity to smear Brexiteers:

In other words, Chris Bryant is literally blaming Brexit and the quest for British independence from ever-closer European political union for causing civil unrest in a country thousands of miles away.

“Sore loser” doesn’t even come close to describing this hysterical, childish behaviour from an elected Labour MP. So out of touch are Labour MPs with the mood of the country (and their own constituents – Chris Bryant’s constituency voted for Brexit, 54-46 per cent) that even now they are sulking and taking part in a tantrum, lashing out at the British people for having the temerity to ignore their doom-laden advice and drag them away from their beloved EU.

The next time you hear it said that the Corbynites are rendering the Labour Party unelectable, remember that it was the centrist Chris Bryant acting like a moronic child on social media while civilians were being killed in Turkey.

 

Turkish President Erdogan addresses during an attempted coup in Istanbul

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