Burkinis and the French Exception

I am stunned: How can France, the land of freedom of expression, wage a war against burkinis? What happened to tolerance? What happened to individual freedom and allowing people to dress as they please? Surely a woman wearing a burkini is no security threat, where would she hide the bombs?

In short, what's the problem with burkinis? They've been around a long, long time except nobody called them "burkinis"...

I painted one such woman wearing a "burkini" on the Gaza public beach back in April 2005:

Palestininan women going to the beach, Gaza (2005) -  
 oil on wood,  120cm x 70 cm

Yes, the woman on the left is in a home-made greenish burkini - that was fully ten years before it occurred to fashion designers to go into the business of making burkinis...

And you could say that our great-grandmothers, who covered themselves up when they went bathing, also wore a form of ante-litteram burkinis:

Vintage Bathing Suits | Bathing-Suit-Women-in-bathing-suits-on-Collaroy-Beach-1908 (source: Pinterest pin )

So what happened to the idea that France was the cradle of libertarian ideas, the leader of human rights? What happened to French exceptionalism? 

It's true that France is exceptional in one way: Unlike the rest of the world, France insists on "laicité", i.e. keeping religion out of the public space. But this is carrying it one step too far. A burkini is not a religious declaration nor an assault on Christianity. It's just a traditional way of dressing making Muslim women comfortable with their bodies, just as our grandmothers were when they went to the beach. Look at them in that photo, don't they look happy and proud of their swimsuits? Why not let Muslim women feel the same? 

Has France suddenly had a fit of Trump-like rejection of anything that is not "us"? Has she forgotten how early Victorian swimwear for women looked like? Here's a reminder - yes, fully covered, arms and legs and the head too:  

 Source: Fashion Era.com, Pauline Weston Thomas, the Early Seaside Fashion History



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