I’ve always been of a mind to say that people, especially women, should be able to wear whatever clothes they choose to wear. As someone who wore some pretty outrageous items of clothing on demonstrations or at parties when I was much more of a lefty than I am now, it would be hypocritical to condemn in others those things which I’ve done myself.
However, on the other hand it’s right to recognise that this isn’t an black and white issue, there are shades of grey in it and sometimes controlling types of is morally and ethically acceptable. For example: I, along with many others, have a natural distaste for the wearing of paramilitary uniforms, especially those of past authoritarian regimes like the Communists or the Nazis and although I wouldn’t forbid people from owning them or wearing them, I do believe that there are acceptable and unacceptable situations when they should and should not be worn. For me along with a number of other Britons, it’s acceptable for someone for example to wear a WWII Wehrmacht uniform as part of a military display or for re-enactments or in the production of films or TV programmes, but it’s quite another thing to don a Nazi-era German uniform to go shopping in your local high street.
It’s a bit of a conflict for me as although I believe in freedom of dress, I also recognise that some clothes can induce disgust and hostility and even violence, not because of what they are, but what the clothes represent.
Therefore for me I find that I can support freedom of dress but can also accept and understand why some nations, such as the United Kingdom, have laws to punish the wearing of ‘political uniforms’. The British government of 1936 saw the future shaping itself in Germany, Italy and Spain and said ‘not here thanks’. This ban on political uniforms helped to kill off the Mosleyite Blackshirts and meant that Britain was spared the spectre of gangs of organised uniformed thugs meting out violence to whoever they chose, as happened in other European countries at the time.
This conflicted view that I have and others may also have, of acceptable and unacceptable dress has a great bearing on the current furore over the ‘Burkini’. A growing number of French local authorities are banning specifically Islamic swimwear, especially the ‘Burkini’. Now although I can see the concerns that some have with banning a particular type of swimwear, I can also understand why the various French municipalities are doing it. They want to show that they are doing something, anything, to protect French culture and also to stop this form of Islamic dress from becoming normalised.
Islamic dress is like no other form of religious dress. Because of the overtly political and militaristic nature of Islam, the clothes associated with it do have more in common with a political uniform than anything that signals to other believers their adherence to a particular belief, or is part of a modesty code. The burkha, niqab, hijab, chador, dishdasha and others do not elicit the same sort of response that aChristian nuns habit or the kippah and sthriemel hats worn by some Jewish men would do. This is because Islam in itself is different. It is provably more violent, aggressive and expansionist than any other major religious path in the world today. Islamic dress will evoke fear and hatred and that is primarily because they represent an ideology that is based on fear and hatred. To put it another way and to give a different analogy regarding threatening and non-threatening dress: If I’m walking back from the pub along the river path and I encounter a Scout Leader in uniform I’m not going to be too bothered. But If (unlikely I know) I encountered someone in the same place wearing a pre-1936 Blackshirt uniform, then I’m going to have a very different attitude to the person. Like it or not clothes do sometimes elicit responses and not always positive ones.
Like I said earlier I can completely understand why the French are cracking down on the Burkini but I can also see that the French authorities are going after the wrong target. The Burkini is merely a symbol and a symptom of France’s much greater and more dangerous radical Islam problem. Although I support, with some reservations, the French authorities hostility to this particular item of Islamic political dress, this crack down is merely going after the symptoms of the disease that France suffers from and is not tackling the disease which is the root cause of many of the violence problems that France is experiencing.
The disease that France suffers from is Islam itself. It’s not the Burkini that has turned a growing number of French towns into no-go areas for non-Muslims and the French police, it is Islam and its followers which has done that. Neither did a Burkini climb into the cab of a lorry or strap on an explosive belt or pick up a firearm and murder French civilians, the followers of Islam did these horrrendous acts as well. This is a case of Burkinis don’t kill people, Islam does.
The French are quite entitled to deal harshly with this latest manifestation of Islamic political uniforms, and also entitled to ban this headgear if they wish. But, they may be better off as a nation in the long run by instead coming down hard on the ideology behind Islamic political uniforms. Sadly I get the impression that the French state is going after the low hanging Islamist fruit and not dealing with the poisonous roots of the tree that bears this fruit.
I hate Islamic clothing just as much as I hate Nazi and Communist uniforms because of what these uniforms and clothing represent, but it shouldn’t be the primary target of the state. The French state should be dealing with the real problems such as the clear and present dangers posed to French citizens by the Islamic inhabitants of the Banlieues and not put too much excess or wasted effort into the matter of the Burkhini.