Burkini on the beachhttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/editorials/france-burkini-ban-on-the-beach-2985902/

Burkini on the beach

The brouhaha frames France’s sorry slide down the road to bigotry.

What is loose, comes in many splendid colours, covers the body and has the French government in a twist? Answer: The burkini. Five French towns have waded into a row by banning the full-body swimsuit loved by many Muslim women. To hear the arguments ranged against it would be to believe it is a lethal weapon (wrapped up in a lot of modesty): It stands accused of bad morals, poor hygiene, being a security risk and no less than the uniform of “extremist Islamism”. The French prime minister has stoutly defended the ban by calling the burkini a “symbol of enslavement of women”, swelling the ranks of brave men fighting to protect women’s rights — by telling them what not to wear.

Across the world, Islamophobia has matched steps with the rise of Islamist terror, which has spectacularly stalked the country. But the fuss over a garment has highlighted France’s inability to expand its idea of itself to include the perspectives of other cultures. It shows up the limits of French nationalism — premised on rationalism and a rigid separation between religion and the state — and especially its insistence on ramming down a single idea of freedom, culture and style. In this worldview, a Muslim woman in a hijab and long pants strolling down the “beaches of (Brigitte) Bardot” is a threat to public order and reason. This is the shriek of paranoia, disguised as a national security drill.

Could the argument against the burqa, and the “locking away of women’s bodies”, be a feminist one? True, there is much that is problematic about religious suspicion of women’s bodies. But the ban on the burkini is tone-deaf to the many voices of real, living women — and their complicated calibration of choice, comfort and tradition. By rushing in to yank the burkini off the beach, the French government has ended up excluding a large number of Muslim women from a public space. At the least, let it not do so in the name of liberty.