Over the past several months, France has been ravaged by Islamist terror attacks. On November 13, several ISIS militants executed a coordinated terrorist attack on Paris, leaving 130 people dead and hundreds more wounded. On July 14, a jihadist rammed his car into hoards of people celebrating Bastille Day, leaving scores dead.
It is no wonder why French people are anxious about the imminent and deadly threat of radical Islamist terror, and why they want to do all in their power to protect their society. However, the recent Burkini ban imposed by several French beach towns is a poorly calibrated attempt at reducing the threat posed by these radicals.
The burkini is a bathing suit donned by Muslim women in order to adhere to their beliefs regarding modesty, and has been outlawed in many towns alongside France’s Mediterranean coast.
First off, there are no documented cases of burkinis aiding in an attack on beachgoers. Therefore, there is little statistical basis on which to base this ban. Usually, the motivation behind laws has some grounding in the way people act. For instance, we remove our shoes in airport security because there have been cases of people trying to use their shoes to carry out terrorist acts. In addition, wearing a seatbelt is required because it has been proven to increase the safety of the driver in the event of an automobile collision. But the burkini prohibition is not in line with these other common sense public safety measures, since there’s no evidence that the burkini enables people to perpetrate terrorism.
The burkini ban also severely impinges on the liberties of Muslims living in France. As many have pointed out, full-body surfing suits and Catholic priest robes constitute acceptable attire for French beaches. But dare don a burkini, and you incur a fine. People should be able to act freely, and the government surely shouldn’t have the power to deny rights solely on the basis of religion.
Many proponents of the ban cite the supposed need to combat repression of women in Islam in favor of Western liberalism. I completely agree that there are sects and interpretations of Islam that oppress women, and that this issue must be addressed by Western society. However, it is unfair to single out Islamic communities in France for scrutiny when it comes to clothing when there are other religious communities that also insist on modest clothing for women, such as Hasidic Judaism.
There are right ways and wrong ways to fight the global war on terror. One common sense tactic is to increase the vetting process of immigrants from many Middle Eastern countries who wish to enter Western states; there are statistically significant numbers of these immigrants who hold beliefs antithetical to Western values and who either support or condone Islamist terror. But criminalizing the burkini will do little to actually assuage the fears of French people and only diverts attention from the real issues facing the West.