The West Can Have Burkinis or Democracy, but Not Both
Some stories are both provincial comedies and national tragedies, insignificant on the face of it and yet of much deeper importance than meets the eye. The strange fall and rise of the French burkini is one such story.
After the terrible attack in Nice, France, when an Islamist terrorist guided his truck down the Promenade des Anglais, murdering scores of innocents on their way home from a fireworks display on the city’s stunning beach, local politicians wanted to be seen as doing something — anything. But since it’s pretty difficult for the mayor of a small town to make much of a contribution in the fight against the Islamic State, Lionnel Luca, the mayor of Villeneuve-Loubet, turned to a symbolic solution. Since a Muslim had killed people near a beach, he sought to address the grave problem of Muslims and beaches. And since he who seeks shall find, Luca came up with the brilliant solution of banning women from wearing burkinis — essentially, wetsuits that allow women to swim without exposing their hair — on his city’s beaches. That’ll show ‘em.
Fourteen towns quickly followed suit, and local police forces all over France bravely set out to fulfill their duty. When policemen in Nice spotted a woman wearing a headscarf on the beach, they duly fined her 38 euros. According to media reports, bystanders approved, shouting, “Go home!” and treating the cops to a round of applause.
It wasn’t just the local beach bums who applauded the burkini ban. Right-wingers like former President Nicolas Sarkozy and Marine Le Pen, the leader of the xenophobic National Front, also endorsed it. Manuel Valls, the center-left prime minister, grandiloquently proclaimed that the French Republic had to defend itself against such “provocations.” A clear majority of the population agreed. According to Ifop, a respected French pollster, only 6 percent of French people are in favor of allowing the burkini to be worn on public beaches, while a walloping 64 percent support the ban. (The remaining 30 percent are indifferent.)