Is The Burkini Ban In Nice A Violation Of Civil Liberties?

Are the civil liberties and rights of Muslims living in France being violated by the burkini ban in Nice and elsewhere across the country? On the surface, this might seem like a silly question. How important can it really be to wear this or that kind of clothing on a beach and why should Muslims care? Of course, the same question could be turned on its ear to ask why it’s so important to everyone else that the burkini be banned.

As reported by the New York Times, many people in France and throughout much of Europe feel that burqas and burkinis have no place in Western society. For many secularists and Christians – as well as Muslims who have embraced Western attitudes – the burkini ban in Nice, Cannes, and elsewhere is a rational response to what they see as a cultural intrusion into traditional French society.

But since the visual difference between a burkini and female scuba gear is legally vague, it makes this seem very much like an attack on Islam, rather than a move against Islamic terrorism. Certainly, the anger about the recent terrorist attacks runs deep in France and is causing people to strike out without thinking.

Those who want to ban these garments consider them archaic – even medieval – in what they imply about the place of women in society. The idea that women should cover themselves from head to toe offends Western sensibilities and our desire for gender equality. It’s difficult to argue against this. Certainly, if I were a Muslim woman I would never wear one.

But that gets to the crux of the problem with the ever-expanding ban on the burkini – or the burqa for that matter. Yes, it is certainly true that most non-Muslims would never want to wear something like this or see any of their female relatives wearing one. But is it any of our business what other people wear?

Two women wearing Islamic niqab veils stand outside the French Embassy during a demonstration.
Should our distaste or fear of something allow us to dictate someone else’s use of it? More than this, are we really willing to give up yet another civil liberty – we’ve surrendered so many lately – simply because the group being targeted is a minority and the ban in question won’t affect us personally?

Of course, recent terrorist attacks in France have provided a good deal of impetus for laws targeting Muslims and the things they wear. The attack in Nice itself makes it understandable that people would be afraid, angry, and eager to do something to suppress what they see as a threat.

But of course, burqas and burkinis don’t set off bombs. People do. Banning Muslims from wearing what they prefer or passing other restrictive laws targeting Muslims only provides extremist Muslims – a tiny minority – with fodder to feed their paranoia and anger.

Many politicians, such as Donald Trump in the United States or Marine Le Pen in France, seem to have no problem with stereotyping Muslims at home and abroad. Just as a genocidal American general once suggested there was no such thing as a good Indian, these politicians are now implying that all Muslims are terrorists until proven otherwise. As noted by CNN, Trump would like to call a virtual halt to all Muslim immigration.

Donald Trump arrives onstage to speak at a rally.
The freedoms we enjoy in the West have become much more restricted lately, largely because of our reaction – or overreaction – to the attacks carried out against us by fundamentalist Islamic terrorists. The Patriot Act, airport security protocols, NSA phone tapping, and all the rest have made our lives a good deal less free than they once were.

But given that one of the main things that Islamic terrorists are attacking us for is our liberal nature and our “decadent” society, giving up such freedoms is essentially surrendering. Certainly, dictating to people what they can and can’t wear on a beach can’t possibly be a tangible way to interfere with Islamic terrorism. On the contrary, it only encourages it.

These bans represent fear and a mob mentality that wants to strike out at someone or something. Again, I myself view burqas and burkinis as archaic and even ridiculous. But until recently, people in the West celebrated the right to be ridiculous. In other words, your rights stop were my rights begin. However we feel about these garments or even the people wearing them, the burkini ban in Nice and elsewhere is one more – admittedly very small – step along the way to burying the concept of personal liberty.

[Photo by Matt King/Getty Images]