Why exactly did Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen waste so much time talking about the burkini?
Not the EU, not the eurozone crisis, not working with Trump or handling Brexit, but two political powerhouses trading blows over a swimsuit. Is this really the pinnacle of political debate in a country on the verge of an election that could prove defining in its cultural and geopolitical future?
France is facing a political crossroads. When the polls open in the race for president at the end of next month, it will mark a battle between two ideological futures for the nation: Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigration, nationalistic, far-right rhetoric versusEmmanuel Macron’s centrist, inclusive, Eurocentric vision of a nation of equals.
Despite their myriad differences, though, when the two candidates clashed on a TV debate last night, they came back to an age-old debate that should never form part of a modern political platform – what women should do with their bodies.
The pair disagreed over the rising use of the “burkini” by Muslim women in France to cover themselves while bathing or spending time on the beach. It is, for reasons inexplicable, a controversial garment in France, and was for a brief period banned in Cannes and other French resorts for being “culturally provocative” (this being a nation that is perfectly comfortable with a bit of naturism at the seaside). French law courts saw sense, overturning such bans because they “violate basic freedoms” – freedoms that one hopes the French people will seek to secure when they cast their ballots in April and May.