By Daniel Pipes
August 23, 2016
France has been seized by a silly hysteria
over the Burkini, prompting me to wonder when Europeans will get serious about
their Islamist challenge.
For starters, what is a Burkini? The word
(sometimes spelled Burqinis) combines the names of two opposite articles of
female clothing: the Burqa (an Islamic tent-like, full-body covering) and the
bikini. Also known as a Halal swimsuit, it modestly covers all but the face,
hands and feet, consisting of a top and a bottom. It resembles a wetsuit with a
Aheda Zanetti of Ahiida Pty Ltd in
Australia claims to have coined the portmanteau in 2003, calling it
"smaller than a Burqa" while "two pieces like a bikini."
The curious and sensational cross of two radically dissimilar articles of
clothing along with the need it fit for active, pious Muslim women, the Burkini
(as Ahiida notes) was "the subject of an immediate rush of interest and
demand." Additionally, some women (like British cooking celebrity Nigella
Lawson) wear it to avoid a tan, while pious Jews have adopted a variant
In 2009, a public swimming pool in
Emerainville excluded a Burkini-wearing woman, on the grounds that she violated
pool rules by wearing street clothes. But Burkinis only erupted into a national
political issue on Aug. 12 when the mayor of Cannes, a resort town on the
French Riviera, banned Burkinis (without legally defining what exactly they
are) on the Cannes beaches because it represents Islamism. A court then
confirmed his ban and the prime minister of France, Manuel Valls, further
endorsed it (on the grounds that the Burkini is a religious expression that has
no place on the beach) as did François Fillon, a likely candidate for president
next year. Thus encouraged, other French municipalities followed suit,
including the city of Nice, plus another nine towns in the Alpes-Maritimes
Department as well as five towns in the Var Department.
This development astonishes me, someone who
has argued that the Burqa (and the Niqab, a similar article of clothing that
leaves a slit for the eyes) needs to be banned from public places on security
grounds. Those formless garments not only hide the face, permitting criminals
and Jihadis to hide themselves but they permit the wearer to hide, say, an
assault rifle without anyone knowing. Men as well as women use Burqas as
accessories to criminal and Jihadi purposes. Indeed, I have collected some 150
anecdotes of bank robberies, abductions, murders, and Jihadi attacks since
2002; Philadelphia has become the Western capital of Burqas and Niqabs as
criminal accessories, with at least 34 incidents in 9 years.
In contrast, the Burkini poses no danger to
public security. Unlike the Burqa or Niqab, it leaves the face uncovered;
relatively tight-fitting, it leaves no place to hide weapons. Men cannot wear
it as a disguise. Further, while there are legitimate arguments about the
hygiene of large garments in pools (prompting some hotels in Morocco to ban the
garment), this is obviously not an issue on the coastal beaches of France.
Accordingly, beach Burkinis should be
allowed without restriction. Cultural arguments, such as the one made by Valls,
are specious and discriminatory. If a woman wishes to dress modestly on the
beach, that is her business, and not the state's. It's also her prerogative to
choose unflattering swimwear those water-logs when she swims.
The Islamist threat to the West is very
real, from the Rushdie rules to sex gangs, Taharrush, polygyny, honour
killings, partial no-go zones, and beheadings. With the influx to Europe of
millions of unvetted Muslim migrants, these problems will grow along with the
number of Islamists. Nerves are on edge and the political scene is changing
rapidly, as symbolized by half the vote for president of Austria recently going
to a hard-line anti-immigration politician.
Issues concerning Islam are arguably
Europe's number-one concern, ahead even of the European Union and the financial
crisis; they need to be dealt with by confronting real problems, not by
focusing on symbolic irrelevancies such as Burkinis, Halal shops, and minarets.
Burqas and Niqabs must be banned (as the German government may soon do),
freedom of speech about Islam and Muslims must be reconfirmed, Saudi and
Iranian funding for religious purposes must be cut, and a single legal code
must apply to all.
So, my advice: focus on these real problems
and let Muslims wear what they wish to the beach.
Mr. Pipes (DanielPipes.org, @DanielPipes) is president of the Middle East
Forum. © 2016 by Daniel Pipes. All rights reserved.