by Martin Accad
You may be thinking: ‘Not another blog about the Burkini!’ Many of us have grown tired of these divisive issues. The building of minarets in Switzerland, of another mosque in America, or the debate over whether Muslim courts with limited jurisdiction over family affairs should be allowed to emerge in the West; all of it has become rather tiresome.
Let’s face it: the matter has become little to do with women’s rights to dress as they please, or their not having the right to wear certain garments. This is about a deepening and growing social rift and struggle within western societies.
At one level it feels like a deep soul searching is taking place in societies of Europe, North America, Australia, and elsewhere. But one wonders as well whether people are really searching, or whether we are simply witnessing the movement of tectonic plates, heading rapidly towards a social earthquake.
Is the burkini a symbol of oppression or of liberation? I see it as a symbolic tool for a deeper social ill, a potent weapon in the battle for power and dominance. In the hands of French Laïcité, the anti-burkini voice has come to represent the final straw of a die hard secularism, which has itself become a symbol of oppression of the very women it claims to want to liberate.
And in the hands of religious zealots, the pro-burkini movement has become the reactionist voice of anti-secularism, a standard bearer of social control no less oppressive towards women both from inside and outside their religious community.
I am convinced that the burkini debate has nothing to do either with the oppression or with the liberation of women. This paradox currently playing out in French society is encapsulated in the very word ‘burkini.’ Snubbing both sides of the debate, the burkini makes a mockery both of the oppressive burka and of the immodest bikini.
Women in conservative Muslim societies were seldom seen by the pool before they were liberated by the burkini. Yet in the hands of men, both secular liberals and religious fanatics, it has again become a symbol of oppression, control, and forceful subjection.
Clearly the clash over the burkini cares little about women’s freedom or liberation. A true fight for women’s rights in the current climate should see the joining of hands of both liberals and conservatives in raising together the standard of free choice.
French liberals should say ‘yes’ to women who want to wear the burkini, which gives them the freedom confidently to enjoy the leisure of swimming in public beaches. And French conservatives should say ‘yes’ to women who don’t want to wear the burkini, as a further extension of the freedom they have found in the outfit.
The burkini conundrum has come to symbolize a clash of powers in western societies, between the purists who believe that conservative Islam is perverting the French ‘way of life,’ and the growing French Muslim population which represents a persistent reminder for everyone everywhere that communities are not static and homogenous constructs. Societies globally are in constant ebb and flow, continuously reinventing and redefining themselves in the turbulent movement of history.
Jesus said to his disciples:
You know that the rulers of the gentiles lord it over them … Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant (Matthew 20.25-26).
The Church’s demonstration of Christ-like leadership as servanthood must not manifest itself through the basic instinct of crowd control that stems from a reactive fear of loss of control. For as surely as the earth is the Lord’s, we can rest assured that God is the Lord of history.