Ostentatious Islamist clothing (which some people erroneously call “Muslim”) are again monopolizing the news. Recently Hillary Clinton, candidate for the American presidency, used Twitter to offer her congratulations to the Olympic athlete Ibtihaj Muhammad for being the first American women to compete while wearing the hijab, as if that were some kind of accomplishment. At the same Rio games, all the members of the Egyptian women’s beach volleyball team wore the hijab.
But the noisiest controversy about the question of Islamist clothing comes to us from France, where the Prime Minister recently approved, informally at least, the decision of several mayors of coastal cities to ban the so-called burkini on public beaches. The burkini is a sort of bathing suite for women which covers the body entirely except for the face.
Before expressing an opinion on this subject, it is important to keep in mind several essential points which must be considered as basic to any discussion about religiously inspired symbols and clothing.
- Firstly, it must be recognized that political Islam is current waging a campaign to impose its symbols, clothing standards and values wherever it can find a opening to do so, and particularly in France, a country in the avant-garde of secularism which Islamists hate with a passion. The promotion of various women’s clothing such as the burkini, hijab, tchador, niqab, burka, etc. is part of that Islamicization campaign. Any woman who willingly wears an article of clothing of this type participates in some small way in this campaign of provocation and identity exhibitionism and thus associates herself with the most backward and politicized currents of Islamism. However, in general Muslim women are forced to wear this type of clothing; they rarely do so by choice.
- The absolute opposition to any and all dress codes — usually expressed by the pseudo-argument that one must never tell anyone what to wear — is inadmissible. Dress codes are practically ubiquitous, found in all walks of life, such as the workplace, sports, ceremonies, etc. We can debate whether a particular dress restriction, in particular circumstances, is appropriate or not, but it would be irrational to think that one could do without all rules at all times and in all places. Furthermore, is not only irrational but completely unjust to allow religions the privilege of any exception to established rules.
- Differences of opinion are of course normal and to be expected. One may quite legitimately oppose a specific dress code. It is however unacceptable to make gratuitious accusations of “racism” or “xenophobia” or “intolerance” or “islamophobia” against those whose only “sin” is to be in favour of that dress code. Such accusations are simply defamatory. We have seen such odious behaviour here in Canada, during the debat about the niqab worn during citizenship ceremonies, where several unscrupulous politicans indulged in the basest demagogy by casting accusations of “racism” against those who supported a ban on face-coverings in this context. The British press took a step even further down into the depths of fatuity by accusing the mayors who banned the burkini of “misogyny.” Whoever practices such defamation succeeds only in proving their total lack of intellectual integrity.
- Freedom of religion does not imply a “right” to practice one’s religion anywhere and everywhere. On the contrary, one is free to practice in private, in one’s private life, or in places of worship with one’s fellow believers. Restrictions on identity exhibitionism in the workplace (especially in the public service) or in state ceremonies, or during official sports competitions for example, are not only foreseeable but desirable, provided of course that such constraints apply equally to all religions. In fact, in order for such enforcement to be fair, it is not even necessary for the authorities to be able to distinguish what is “religious” from what is not; it is enough to reject any and all accommodations, all exceptions to general rules, unsupported by valid justification. Religious reasons are almost never justified because they are generally based on fictional pseudo-needs.
Thus, having considered the above points, what can we conclude about the decision to ban the burkini on public beaches in several French cities? In my opinion, the ban is inappropriate for the simple reason that the burkini does not obscure the face and the context here is private life (even though the site is public). In order to ban the burkini on public beaches, one would also have to ban the hijab and the tchador on the street and everywhere in public, and such a ban would, I think, be draconian. But as for the mayors who opted for a ban, I certainly would not denounce them as “fascists” or defame them with other insults. Rather, I would simply say that they are in error, while nevertheless motivated by very valid and understandable reasons, i.e. the desire to put a brake on the Islamist campaign of proselytism. At any rate, we have just learned that the French Conseil d’État struck down the burkini ban on Friday August 26.
Nevertheless the burkini must, in my opinion, be banned in official sports competitions such as the Olympic Games, and in addition the hijab and other versions of the Islamist veil must of course be banned in such competitions. Furthermore, if a country participating in an international competition (such as the Olympics) imposes on its female athletes clothing which does not conform to the standards of the particular sport, then that country (including its male athletes) must be excluded from the competition.
And of course religious symbols, including all variants of the Islamist veil, must be banned in the public service, i.e. among state employees on the job. Similar bans in the private sector are also to be considered, provided of course that they apply equally to all religions. The more an employee’s role is visible to the public, the more appropriate a dress code becomes. For example, a television news reader should abstain from displaying her or his religious affiliation, if any, especially while on the air. (See our “Declaration for a Secular Public Service” )
As far as face-coverings are concerned, a more extensive ban is justified, applying not only to state employees but also to clients of public services. In France face-coverings are forbidden everywhere in public, which is a legitimate option. (See “Face-Coverings Must be Banned in All State Institutions”)