Aug 25, 2016

Is Cannes’ burkini ban so different from Bondi’s bikini one?

Parts of France have banned the modest Muslim swimming costume known as the "burkini". Is forcing women to disrobe in public really the way to stop radical Islam? Lawyer and author Michael Bradley looks at parallels to Bondi's infamous bikini ban in the 1950s.

A woman wearing a burkini
"I have noticed that the girls who wear sensible one-piece costumes are full of sound sense." -- Bondi Life Guard, 1956. "A beach outfit showing in an ostentatious manner a religious affiliation … has the nature of creating risks of troubles of public order." -- Cannes, 2016.
Bikini/burkini, what’s the difference apart from 50 years of society apparently learning nothing about tolerance? Today’s imagery is of four heavily armed French police officers surrounding a lone woman on a Cannes beach, ordering her to remove her long-sleeved top, and giving her an on-the-spot fine for what, exactly? She’s wearing a headscarf, but her face isn’t in any way concealed. Her matching top is a shapeless garment, indistinguishable from standard beachwear of any culture anywhere. Her sole distinguishing feature is that she’s a Muslim woman on a beach. The city of Cannes has banned "burkinis", or modest, loose clothing favoured by some Muslim women at the beach, declaring:
"Access to beaches and for swimming is banned to any person wearing improper clothes that are not respectful of good morals and secularism. "Beachwear which ostentatiously displays religious affiliation, when France and places of worship are currently the target of terrorist attacks, is liable to create risks of disrupting public order."
During the 1940s-60s, Sydney’s beaches were the scene of numerous arrests of young women who were flagrantly ignoring the Local Government Act Ordinance No. 52 (1935), which stipulated, in considerable detail, what could legally be worn as a swimming costume in public. It mandated legs at least three inches long, and that the costume must completely cover the front of the body from the armpits to the waist. Strapless numbers were also banned. [The anti-Islam crusade endorsed by Bolt, Kruger is already happening] A famous 1961 Les Tanner cartoon skewered the stupidity of this law beautifully, but it had taken 26 years for a law that attempted to define public decency in tape-measured body-covering terms to finally be repealed. Where’s that other parallel in the back of our minds? Oh yeah, on the streets of Tehran, where the Basij, the morality police, harass and arrest women for not covering their faces, hands or legs. Same-same or different to Bondi, 1956? The underpinning legal principle in both cases is the maintenance of public morals on a foundation of religious belief. In France, the mayor of Cannes would argue, the situation is quite distinct. The burkini ban is a temporary law, justified by the desirability of reducing social tensions in that city after the horrific terror attack a month ago that took 84 lives on the beachfront promenade. Judging from the mayor’s words, in that context the choice to wear a burkini can only be a deliberately provocative act.  Public safety demands extraordinary measures. The result of course is the spectacle of women being forced to reveal more of their bodies, in pursuance of the defence of Western society and all its precious freedoms from the prescriptive intrusions of a religion that (in its more conservative forms) dictates that women must be covered head to foot. As ironies go, it’s a category killer. France has form in this field. It has been the law there since 2011 that the burqa and niqab, which cover the whole face (except the eyes in the niqab’s case) cannot be worn in public. Muslim headscarves and other conspicuous religious symbols have been banned in French schools since 2004. While similar legislative demands in Australia (such as by Fred Nile, Jacqui Lambie and Pauline Hanson) are guaranteed to cause a major furore, in France there is a long tradition of impinging “normal” human freedoms in the name of national harmony (meaning conformity). France has extremely tough laws affecting free speech in areas such as Holocaust denial. The Academie Francaise has since 1635 been the official authority on correct usage of the French language and is still working hard to hold back the tide of Anglicised words. Whatever “Liberte” is supposed to mean, it obviously isn’t freedom to be different. [No uncorrupted man may fear Hanson ... except Muslims, obviously] Ironically (again), it is arguably the intensity of the French passion for preserving whatever is meant by “French culture” that has caused the abject failure of its immigrant populations to be integrated into the community, the inevitably consequent tensions and France's current appalling vulnerability to homegrown Islamic terrorism. Is it fair to draw a line from prudish bikini bans to national security-driven enforcement of a cultural demand that we all show our faces? Not entirely; there is at least a contentious practical justification for requiring faces to be unconcealed. That logic, fragile as it is, can’t be rationally extended to making women disrobe in public. In Cannes, we are back to the same idiotic pursuit of indefinable public morals, which is no different from Bondi 1956 or Tehran 1979, which causes police to degrade themselves and their office as they arrest women for wearing too many or too few clothes. The humiliation is felt by the victims, but it’s owned by the society that permits this new Puritanism to exist.

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11 thoughts on “Is Cannes’ burkini ban so different from Bondi’s bikini one?

  1. CML

    What a lot of hogwash!
    France is a secular country…and Australia is supposed to be. I would be the last person in this country to have anything in common with the likes of Hanson and co, but as an atheist, the displaying of ‘religious’ clothing, trinkets etc. by ANYONE, grossly offends me.
    The covering of faces by women for any reason demeans the individual and makes them into a ‘non-person’…we should not encourage such behaviour in this country. You can talk about a person’s ‘right’ to wear what they like, but only the truly indoctrinated would see this as anything else but gross misogyny.
    If you have an argument against this…could you please explain why MEN don’t have to cover their faces???

    1. Robert Beverley

      So individual choice is only acceptable when it aligns with your personal ideology? Sounds like religious dogma to me.

      1. CML

        I didn’t say that…just answer the question!!!
        And while you are at it, why is ‘religion’ allowed to impinge on the law and culture of a SECULAR country?
        Spare me from your accusation of ‘religious dogma’…I thoroughly dislike ALL religions and the damage they cause to people and nations all over the planet.
        They can all carry on with their fairies at the bottom of the garden nonsense in private, and leave the rest of us in peace!!

      2. AR

        Freedom of religion is a western concept which is anathema in islam.
        It now needs to be updated to freedom FROM religion.
        Religiously deluded people should keep their manias private and certainly NOT be allowed to inculcate children.

    2. Woopwoop

      Irrelevant. This article is about the burkini, which doesn’t cover the face.

  2. [email protected]

    At the tender age of 66, I have seen a lifetime of people telling me what to wear and enforcing dress restrictions .. with a modicum of modesty, people should be able to be inappropriate, embarrasing to themselves and/or should be allowed to express who they are by their appearance. I too am an athiest .. but I have to live and socialise with many friends of various beliefs.. (I understand their need to believe in something and I appreciate their friendships) .. perhaps we should ban Goth Attire and Cyclists in Lycra adorning our cafe’s.

  3. [email protected]

    also, what about all those orthodox Jewish people I keep running into .. with their wierd black suits, hats and beards .. and lets insist that Sikhs cut their hair .. this could drag on all night (oh .. drag queens); not to mention camel toe .. the French have lost the plot.

  4. AR

    Anyone want an ambulance chaser? Apply to author.
    To attempt to equate Bondi with burqas is as perfect an example of the amorality of shysters as could be imagined.
    The point was that the bikini ban failed because free people thought it irrelevant.
    The burqa ban is entirely different – the deliberate confrontation by an irrational, totalitarian theocracy of the 21stC should be resisted by everyone who chooses to think for themselves.
    Does anyone seriously think that this criis du jour was NOT a carefully prepared publicity stunt?
    If so, I have a couple of bridges to sell, cheep-cheep coz you my special friend.

    1. CML

      Second last sentence…right on, AR!
      7.30 I noted in passing fell for it…did a segment on the Australian designer and producer of the offending garment, in an effort to justify her troublesome innovation!!

  5. Kevin_T

    Quote: “The burkini ban is a temporary law, justified by the desirability of reducing social tensions ….”

    Actually, in that series of photo’s of the French police officers, the victimised woman, and other people visible on the beach, you can pretty much pinpoint the cause and heightening of social tensions in that particular action.

    The other beach-goers don’t really appear to have been concerned about the woman lying on the beach wearing what she chose to wear on that day. The heavy handed approach on the other hand, has to have caused tensions….

  6. Iain MacPhail

    Slow down a minute, there. France has a self-image issue. There’s an underlay in place even before we start to think ‘Muslim’. Here’s part of a recent letter from France:
    ‘You will be amused to know that I was kicked out of a public swimming pool because I was wearing Australian board-short style swimmers … various others of both sexes were in the skimpiest of bikinis and speedos which left nothing to the imagination.’

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