The Dilemma of the Burqini

Source: The Atlantic

I didn’t associate Massachusetts beaches with burqinis—or with Muslims, for that matter. But my family and I were on vacation, and there was a woman in the water wearing the full-body swimsuit. Next to me on the beach, two friends were talking somewhat loudly. The woman said, “That’s what they were trying to do in France”—ban burqinis. Her friend responded nonchalantly, as if he couldn’t imagine anyone else thinking otherwise: “Yeah, that’s so culturally insensitive.” He quickly connected this to President Trump, saying that we were becoming a “meaner” country, presumably like France.I smiled. This was why I liked, and even loved, the modern liberal instinct, however naïve and unsophisticated: It was bad to be mean to people with different beliefs. We don’t necessarily know why, or perhaps we can’t articulate the political theory behind it, but we feel it, especially now that the man some of us dislike so vehemently seems to us to dislike Muslims himself.

It’s a good instinct to have, and almost certainly the “right” one, if for no other reason than that it helps defuse conflict in pluralistic societies. It’s always better, all other things being equal, to err on the side of accommodation, at least as a first instinct. But this willingness to go beyond mere tolerance, to accept or even embrace difference, doesn’t necessarily come naturally to those who have not been inculcated with the sort of pluralism that is second nature to me and most of my friends.

Even within my family, all Muslim, there is a range of views about tolerance and its limits. One family member gets genuinely angry when he sees Muslim women in America wearing the niqab, or face veil, and he seems open, or at least indifferent, to banning it altogether. (I take issue with this, because in order to avoid self-contradiction a liberal society must be able to accommodate even extreme forms of illiberalism, as long as they do not harm anyone.) Another family member believes that bans of any sort aren’t the answer, yet he quite instinctively reacted negatively when he saw the woman in her burqini, even though it was a far cry from a face veil. It just really bothered him, and he apparently couldn’t help it.

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1 reply

  1. These burkini objecting people should travel far and wide and they will find that women in general (not just Muslims), where all kinds of clothes on the beach and in the water.

    Where I live, which is a beach resort, local women, enter the sea in burqas as well as saris!!! And ‘surprise’! It bothers no one including the tourists sunbathing all around, some of whom are clad in the minimum of clothing…

    Therefore, I cannot understand this obsession of the West regarding what Musllms wear….. or don’t wear.

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