I have been informed that the burkini ban on French beaches has been lifted. This is thrilling news to me. In case you didn’t know what’s going on, a “burkini” is a burka for the beach — a full-body swimsuit worn by Muslim women. Many beaches in France recently imposed a ban on these swimsuits, declaring that they were not in line with their secular values. At the beach, Muslim women wearing one could be forced to remove them, and then fined. So it comes as good news to me that Muslim women will once again be able to wear them without fear of being punished.
…This is where a lot of people who know me will widen their eyes. You’re happy about this, Scott? What the hell?
“I thought you were an atheist, Scott, and would like to see all religion go away! You would think that banning the ‘burkini’ would be a ‘step in the right direction’ by your standards — why would you be happy that the ban was repealed?”
…It’s a little thing that I stand for called ‘freedom,’ a concept a lot of people don’t seem to have a very good grasp on. It seems that to a lot of people, ‘freedom’ means “you are free to do as I please.” To me, you being ‘free’ means being free to do as you please (and I am free to do as I please), so long as you aren’t infringing upon my rights. The very principle of ‘freedom of religion’ which allows me to be an atheist allows you to be a Christian, or a Muslim, or a Scientologist, or a Pastafarian. I will never, ever support the abolishment of religion, or the banning of reasonable religious practices. Obviously, if your religious practice is “kill your kids,” I’ll support a ban on it… But anything that isn’t dire like that falls under ‘freedom of religion.’ (And this is a point where many people become confused, thinking that reasonable religious practice includes practice using the government as a platform, but this is the topic of another post.) If burkinis are part of the Muslim practice, the women of the religion should be free to practice their religion without fear of punishment. Indeed, what if the ‘secular values’ of America were that women should all be topless at the beach? Many Christians would very much oppose this… so what if the government stepped in and said you had to remove your top and/or be fined? We would be incensed. “Freedom of religion! I have the right to cover my top if I want to!” Same concept, just a little more drastic.
Yes, I would like religion to disappear, but never, ever because the government says it has to. This infringes on basic human rights. I might not agree with your beliefs and opinions, but that doesn’t mean I have the right to supress them. You, as a human, have the right to believe whatever you want. The moment we start legislating thought crimes, dress codes, etc., we inch closer and closer to a totalitarian government.
“…Ok, but I thought you stood for women’s rights and equality! The burka and burkini are obviously tokens of the opression of women! How could you support women wearing them!?”
For the same reason I don’t pitch a fit when Mennonites or Amish want to wear a particular style of clothes based on their religion. Or less stringent codes… I don’t know what these ankle-length denim dresses are all about, but if that is the fashion in your religion, go for it. Obviously, the burka and burkini are extreme examples of religious dress, but it’s really no more my place to say what women should or should not wear in that country than it is my place to say what they should wear here. Is the full-body covering a form of oppression? Possibly, depending on your perspective — but that’s not really my place to judge. I will continue to speak my mind, but I absolutely won’t support a ban on forms of clothing, oppressive or otherwise.
And anyway, sometimes I find the burka and burkini just as offensive to men as to women. I can already hear the protests: What!? You’re not the one being forced to cover yourself head to toe! No, I’m not. It’s the idea behind the burka that bothers me so much. The reason women are forced into over-modesty in Muslim countries is to prevent lust and sexual aggression in men. Any man who takes a step back and thinks about this will be offended, too: The basic idea here is that men are animals who cannot control their sexual urges, so we must therefore cover our women so as not to excite our lust. In a sense, it’s saying that all men are rapists, and we can’t really help it. That’s disgusting and offensive to me.
Even still — even as offensive as it is to me — I still support their right to practice their religion as they see fit. Just like I support your right, Christians, to practice your religion.