Thursday, September 08, 2016

The Burkini And Its Ban in France: Stripping The Layers, One By One.

On Female Modesty, the Burkini and Its Ban in France

The burkini is a form of religious modesty swimwear, intended for those  who believe that Islam requires women to bare no more skin in public (where men not your close kin can see you)  than what appears on the face, the hands and the feet (1)

It looks like a wetsuit-tunic combination:

Modesty swimwear is also available for Christian women.  An example of the types of outfits I've seen for sale can be found here

That religious modesty swimwear is marketed to both Christian women and Muslim women doesn't mean that the two markets are equally large.

My guess (2) is that many more Muslim than Christian women are affected by the religious stipulations for women to be modest.  The Christian female modesty clothing  is aimed at the fundamentalist market, whereas the Muslim female modesty clothing is aimed at a much wider market of women.

But what the two types of modesty swimwear share, of course, is that religious concepts of modesty are thousand times more often about women's dress, women's bodies and women's behavior than about men's dress, bodies or behavior.  

That's something thoughtful people should keep in mind when reading about the recent events in the south of France:  The ban of the burkini on the beaches of some thirty seaside towns and cities, including Nice, where 80+ people died in a terrorist attack on Bastille day this July. 

The Nice ban has been overturned by a court, and so have the bans in some other cities (3).  The court's argument concerning the Nice ban is worth quoting, because it also tells us about the motives behind the ban: The argument that the wear of the burkini poses a risk to public order:

A court in Nice suspended the city's burkini ban, citing insufficient grounds to justify the controversial decree.
In the ruling Thursday, judges from Nice's administrative tribunal court said the full-length swimsuit worn by some Muslim women did not pose a risk to public order on the French Riviera city's beaches.
The case was brought by the Collective Against Islamophobia -- a group of human rights activists who have been helping a number of women challenge fines. They argued that the ban is discriminatory, unconstitutional and that there has been no evidence to suggest that wearing a burkini has contributed to any acts of public disorder.
Over 30 towns -- largely situated along France's southeast coastline -- initially imposed a ban on the divisive swimwear.

The control of women's clothing has a long history everywhere, and the French burkini bans can be slotted into that history.  At the same time, these bans are also the reverse of most of the past regulations about women's bodies in the public sphere:  They amount to demands that women bare more skin, not less skin.

That's because the current case is not directly about controlling women's sexuality or about assigning them the complete duty of sexual gate-keeping, but about something different:

The fear of extremist religious terrorism, the belief (most likely to be false) that the burkini signals its wearer's allegiance to such terrorism, the definition of what it means to be French, what it means to be secular in the public sphere, and other similar questions.

While most regulations of women's swimwear have historically focused on enforcing female modesty and the duty of female sexual gate-keeping, this case is different:  Modesty in the West has usually been employed as the counter-argument to individual women's demands to decide for themselves what to wear on the beach, but in the burkini ban  modesty and those individual demands are on the same side, at least if we only look at the top layers of the case (4).

Feminists React To The Ban.  Or The Man Behind The Curtain.

One particular feminist take of the burkini ban is about the news that a woman on the beach had been made to strip some layers of her clothing by a policeman.  This take is a good example of the general feminist arguments I read in the social media:

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Knocking Over Rock Formations

You may have read this story about a group of young men deciding to knock over a rock formation.  They were caught on video.

There is a place in Finland near my mother's apartment which I have often visited on my previous trips when I needed solitude, the company of ancient giant oaks, spruces and white birches, and the odd temporary silences in the middle of the usual human noises when nature speaks to us.

It's a park-like area, with grass, those giant trees, a few stepping stone paths, all surrounded by a very tall hedge.  Someone takes care of the area, but the gate is always open, and there is no prohibition to walking under those giant trees who mutter to each other in unknown languages when the wind rises.

I asked people about the place and was told that it was a cemetery for a few decades from the end of the 19th century to the 20th century, but its use was abandoned because of too high a water table.  Initially the gravestones and metal crosses were left on the graves there, but vandals decided to play with them and so they were removed at some point in the 1980s.  Still, there are graves under that green grass.

I also found that one of my fore-mothers is buried in that place.

Until this year, two massive stone benches allowed people visiting the site for exercise or for letting their children play or for just a place for an elderly person taking a walk to sit down and observe nature.

The benches were each built from three massive stone cubes supporting a very large rectangular stone, appearing impossible for anyone to move.  My mother has a fifty-year old picture of two young girls sitting on one, arms over each others' shoulders, smiling into the sun.

What appears impossible to destroy (ideas, whether good or bad,  the power of giant countries) may not be.

This year someone had destroyed the stone benches.  They were not only knocked over, but hacked to smaller pieces, so that where there once was a bench there now is a pile of rubble, surrounded by beer cans, cigarette ends and the typical litter of certain types of human activity.

I link this to the Oregon story, because there are similarities:

The great thrill of illegitimate destruction, which I imagine the perpetrators felt, the feeling of power in attacking something others (those stodgy others) value, giving the finger to "the man," impressing others by one's daring and, finally, not giving a f**k.  Both stories are also about "property" which many view as not belonging to anyone, public property, in at least an indirect sense, or "lost property" which belongs to anyone who has the guts to appropriate it.

The stories differ in that whoever destroyed the stone benches had to plan the operation, had to bring some serious equipment to achieve their purpose.  And, of course, the Oregon case is about the destruction of something more valuable, because the stone benches could  more easily be replaced.

Some rock formations inside me were also knocked over.  I realized, with some anger, that I privileged my attempts to understand the motivations of the destroyers, gave them the benefit of the doubt.  Perhaps they were teenagers from dysfunctional families, perhaps they had suffered a recent death in the family, perhaps someone whom the society had treated harshly wanted to pay it back, perhaps they were just very young with undeveloped brains (but massive arms).

The anger boiled up, because that order meant I was quickly tiptoeing past my own pain and the likely pain of many others who used the place for a refuge, the pain caused by violence having been done to something one loved.

And I am not the person who creates dysfunctional families or who kills loved ones and I am certainly not the society.  Yet part of the harvest the perpetrators gleaned was my small pain, my small disappointment, my small sorrow, this anger which may not be so small.  Is that thought what the destroyers enjoyed?  Eye for an eye, pain for a pain?

I call my pain small because it is, in comparison to other pains.  But I shouldn't have tiptoed past it by telling myself about the possible pains of the perpetrators or by reminding myself that the trees, at least, are still standing.  Because all people matter, including those elderly who now have no space to rest in the middle of their daily health walks, or who have to take that walk down a busy street if they need benches.  And if someone comes for the trees with a circular saw their great age and wisdom will not help them.  Only human intervention can.

A trivial story, this one, on a political blog.  But I have a feeling it is directly interwoven with the way I have written about politics, the way I may have tiptoed past some pains, in my haste to analyze other pains.