By Omar Ahmad
In August of 2009, a woman wearing a burkini was prevented from entering a public swimming pool in France because French pool policy does not allow “swimming while clothed”. Although this rule was intended to promote hygiene and inhibit bacteria growth, many Muslims see this ban on burkinis as a form of religious discrimination.
However, some in the French government believe this is a more serious concern; according to the Los Angeles Times, National Assembly member Andre Gerin claims the burkini issue to be part of a “larger national problem” of growing Islamic extremism in France. Wearing the garment in public is a “clear provocation” and “ridiculous,” while helping “undo years of progress toward equal rights for women.”
France is debating whether or not to ban the burka altogether. A parliamentary panel will be investigating the issue of the burka in the near future and will advise lawmakers on whether or not the garment should be banned. According to BBC, President Nicolas Sarkozy told Parliament that the burka was “not welcome” in France. “In our country we cannot accept women prisoners behind a wire fence, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity.”
Just a few hundred miles away in the United Kingdom, the story is almost reversed. In Britain, everyone is required to wear swimwear that adheres to Islamic law during designated Muslim swimming times in public pools. During these times, all women, Muslim and non-Muslim, are required to wear burkinis, and men must cover from navel to knee.
According to the New American, Parliament member Ian Cawsey said, “Of course swimming pools have basic codes of dress but it should not go beyond that. I don’t think that in a local authority pool I should have to wear a particular type of clothes for the benefit of someone else. That’s not integration or cohesion.”
As these two countries have policies that are diametrically opposed to each other, the issue of the burkini remains a volatile topic with strong proponents and opponents in both countries. While the French government views the Islamic dress code for women to be too restricting and backwards, and is illegalizing parts of it, Britain is taking steps to embrace this aspect of Islamic law, though some may argue that this comes at the expense of relations between Muslims and non-Muslims.