The Burkini, Secularism, and 21st Century Europe

Had Europe kept its Christian values and made sure that instead of freeing its people from religion it would have given them solely the freedom of religion, the spiritual vacuum we see being filled by Islam today would not have been an issue, and peaceful cohabitation and mutual respect would have been easier to achieve, as it is less difficult to respect and integrate into a culture which is following a well-established path and set of morals than it is to respect a society which is still searching for its own identity.

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By Georgiana Constantin l November 1, 2016

burkini

The burkini ban in France has sparked debates about whether or not anyone should tell women what they should and should not wear. Many indeed make the case that such a ban only perpetuates the enslavement of women to a patriarchal society. Arguing that the burkini is similar to wetsuits and that not only Muslim women wear them, but also those wishing not to show their bodies and asking questions such as whether or not a nun might not be allowed to the beach because of the garments she is wearing, many see the ban as ridiculous and uncalled for.

Observing the spectacle of human behavior in the face of Islamic terrorist attacks and then later when dealing with reactionary restrictions on apparel, which is symbolically Islamic, is quite troubling.

And, when it comes to the recent “freedom for women” debate, things get even more complicated.

Firstly, addressing some of the arguments made earlier, while the burkini may look like a wetsuit, its purpose is very different indeed. The wetsuit looks the way it does because it has a specific function to perform in terms of thermoregulation and hydrodynamics. For it to look the way it does is a necessity.

Secondly, those who choose to wear the wetsuit also have a choice to also wear something else. They are not forced to wear it in order to cover up.

Thirdly, as per the nun argument, she would have made the conscious choice of belonging to a religious institution and performing a specific function, which would require her to dress in a certain manner. The key word here is choice.

Unfortunately, this is something that most women who do wear a burkini do not have, and while it may not be worn only by Muslim women, one cannot ignore the fact that it was created as an offshoot of Islamic apparel, hence the origin of the name burkini, a combination of burka and bikini.

While it might feel like an exaggeration to ban a certain type of clothing, perhaps the best way to put an end to the ever-present worry that the world is becoming unnecessarily paranoid is to recognize the underlying issue which sparked such actions. Other than the fact that in the wake of the Islamist terror attacks in France the government seems to want to make its Muslim population integrate more, seeing as how nobody is banning long dresses or any other type of body covering techniques which might be employed, and, how far the animosity between Islam and the West has pushed cultural integration, one must consider several important factors.

Firstly, the burkini represents women’s lack of choice in how they dress. They are told what they can and cannot wear, so those holding up sings in protests reading “our bodies our choices” would do well to understand where exactly the contradiction in their belief lies. For most wearing traditional Muslim apparel such a statement is nothing more than a celebration of their own lack of freedom, albeit one to which they have grown accustomed.

Secondly, we must acknowledge the true core of the problem. The ban on burkas, niqabs and burkinis represents the frustration of a civilization that chose to completely exclude any religious sentiment from the lives of their citizens. The same civilization is now noticing a spike in Islamist terror attacks. France is also noticing a rise in its Muslim population, as it has the third largest Muslim population in Europe after Germany and Russia, and conversion to Islam is only making the numbers grow. France, and all of Western Europe’s attempt to drive out God for the sake of “liberty, equality and fraternity” has turned most of these countries into spiritual vacuums. And by not recognizing the basic human need for the divine they have made their populations susceptible to thirst for the transcendental. And since Christianity has been deemed “oppressive” and “outdated,” Islam has taken on the role of religious soother. It is now the fastest growing religion in Europe. Because of the phenomenon of Islamization, this is a worrying trend.

Thirdly, Europe is striving to be a secular continent, a place where there would be no hindrance not to but rather by religion. But it is failing to do so, and, since it did not learn anything from communism’s failed attempt to replace religion with ideology, it is now giving way to Islam. What is worrying about this? Most likely the prospect of having to live under Shari’ah law at some point when the rule of the new majority decides they have had enough of secularism’s emptiness. It does not seem so farfetched a scenario when one takes into account that many of the Islamic faith do not want to assimilate into their adoptive cultures but would rather live the same type of life they did in their native lands.

There are stories of fights for integration being abandoned by those who had dedicated their time and effort to help and there are tragedies which have taken place because of the newcomers’ lack of observance of Western values. At the same time, there are those, both European citizens and refugees, who are simply caught in the middle of this crisis and who would only wish for peaceful cohabitation.

One must not underestimate the toll this crisis is taking on all sides and must also be careful not to blame the current situation only on the recent massive influx of asylum seekers. Perhaps, had Europe kept its Christian values and made sure that instead of freeing its people from religion it would have given them solely the freedom of religion, the spiritual vacuum we see being filled by Islam today would not have been an issue, and peaceful cohabitation and mutual respect would have been easier to achieve, as it is less difficult to respect and integrate into a culture which is following a well-established path and set of morals than it is to respect a society which is still searching for its own identity. In fact, living in a culture that does not know what it stands for might make one want to give it an identity instead of waiting for it to find it on its own. It is the same as with human beings’ innate longing to give an object, creature or phenomenon a name if it does not have one. At this rate though, Europe might want to take care that the name of its future will not be Shari’ah, even if for no other reason than the fact that it is incompatible with the spirit of Europeans.


Georgiana Constantin is a law graduate who has studied International, European and Romanian law at the Romanian-American University in Bucharest and is presently a political science doctoral candidate at the University of Bucharest. Ms. Constantin, who is based in Romania, is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis of the conservative-online-journalism center at the Washington-based Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research.