France had every right to ban the burkini – Their country, their rules

Published: September 3, 2016

A Muslim woman wears a burkini, a swimsuit that leaves only the face, hands and feet exposed, on a beach in Marseille, France, August 17, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

Women and their clothing have long been a matter of contention in society. Men have always regarded the female body as a symbol of social honour and have sought to control the way women dress and the way they carry themselves.

In the modern era, it is only in the last half century or so that women have really been able to get some measure of control over their own choices, and that too only in some parts of the world. In most societies, the patriarchal order still dominates.

It has been a long and hard fought struggle for women to break free from the patriarchal stranglehold on their individuality and the west has done an excellent job of enfranchising its women.

Across the western world, women today are on an equal footing with men. Gender inequality and discrimination have steadily ebbed and women are able to be themselves, unhindered by the disapproving male glare.

This western model has also proved to be an inspiration to women in other countries and has laid the foundation for more women getting educated and employed and being able to make their voices heard.

France, with its secular and liberal values, has been at the forefront of propagating women’s liberation. The French hold these ideals dear and are determined to continue the progress they’ve made. There is a certain identity, a certain belief system that is associated with being French. Liberty, equality, and fraternity are enshrined in the French mind-set and are the founding values of the Republic.

France also has relatively more cultural unity. Unlike countries like the United States, Canada, or even India, France has a largely homogenous identity. It has traditionally not been a melting pot of cultures and influences. It is unapologetic about being French and wants to ensure that it remains that way.

Though France has opened itself to immigrants, it is also very clear that it expects immigrants to assimilate into the French way of life. It is perfectly fair for France to expect that from newcomers. France may have had its selfish reasons for accepting immigrants, but at least economic immigrants have the opportunity to become citizens and settle there permanently.

Many Middle Eastern countries use expatriate labour for their growth, but throw them out the moment their contracts get over. Isn’t it outrageous that people who toil their entire lives in the UAE have absolutely no chance to become Emiratis? The same is the story in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and many other countries. Forget about non-Muslims, but even Muslims from Pakistan or Bangladesh cannot ever dream of becoming nationals of these countries.

Why doesn’t that raise eyebrows?

You may argue that Dubai permits bikinis, alcohol, and pork, but remember it only accepts you as a visitor. Kissing in public can still land you in prison, as many westerners have found out. It is clearly not willing to compromise on its inherent character.

The fact that the French courts have overturned the ban also points to the evolved sense of personal liberty and tolerance that France possesses. All the outrage could be channelled through a judicial process that took a humanitarian view of the situation. The Dutch woman who was imprisoned for reporting her rape in Qatar had no recourse to a higher court to seek enlightened justice. The couple arrested for kissing in Dubai had no such luxury either. This clearly demonstrates how far ahead Europe is in matters of personal liberty and why left wing liberals ought to direct their outrage at the autocratic Gulf kingdoms instead.

If globalisation and the virtues of pluralism are the reasons why France is being urged to become an inclusive melting pot, then shouldn’t the same standards be applied to other countries as well?

Therefore, if the world is not pressing the rich Gulf kingdoms to materially open up their societies out of respect for their way of life, then the French also do not owe it to anybody to embrace unfettered multicultural practices or accept values that are alien to them. The fact that they have opened their country to outsiders and allow them to become French speaks volumes for their humanitarianism.

That’s the context through which France’s efforts to first curb the hijab, and more recently the burkini, must be viewed. In the French mindset, these garments have absolutely no place in their egalitarian and progressive society and are symbols of the regressive mind-set that they fought so hard to overcome.

It is ironic that the burkini wasn’t invented in a Muslim country. It was actually created in Australia, by a woman. It is sad that it wasn’t a Muslim man, in a Muslim country, who thought about making things a little more comfortable for his female compatriots. They have apparently been content watching their women lug around in inconvenient layers of clothes, even while at leisure.

The burkini is definitely a step up from the burqa and the niqab, but it is still anachronistic. It reduces the physical baggage that a woman is compelled to carry, but it in no way diminishes the ideological baggage that she must lug each time she visits the beach.

An important point to remember is that banning burkinis does not amount to mandating the wearing of bikinis. Women who are uncomfortable wearing bikinis would remain free to wear many other types of less revealing clothing to the beach. T-shirts, shorts, capris, sarongs that will remain perfectly legitimate beachwear.

While Muslim men have complete freedom to walk bare-chested wherever they choose, they impose severe restrictions on their women. From Malaysia to Morocco and beyond, men can enjoy the cool breeze on their skins, while every inch of the woman’s skin must be hidden under the oppressive fabric.

If a young woman is brought up to believe that her body is the repository of family and community honour, obviously she will grow up to be uncomfortable with the idea of not keeping it covered up at all times. As that woman steps out of the house, she may believe that wearing the hijab is her choice. However, that choice is merely an illusion. The reality is that she has been conditioned to believe that and her decision is really not autonomous.

This hypocrisy, discrimination and injustice should be unacceptable in this day and age. We must celebrate the fact that the French have had the courage to speak up against it and do something to change things, at least in their country.

Critics of the burkini ban say that that forcing women to shed their burkinis is as bad as forcing them to wear burqas. This is a disingenuous argument. It is important to remember that this ban isn’t directed at women. It is actually meant to strike a blow at the patriarchal oppression of women. France wants no part in this systematic inequality and is also wary of the influence that these orthodox attitudes can have in pushing their own society back in time. Thus it is asking Muslims in the country to reform. If they want to continue to be a part of the French society, then they must adopt more progressive and liberal values.

Many liberals who oppose this ban are unwittingly doing a great disservice to Muslim women all over the world. They are trotting out culture, heritage, tradition, and even biology as excuses for not trying to fight the status quo. These same arguments have been used to justify slavery, segregation, and many other social ills over the centuries. Mere lip service to women’s equality is not enough. Stern action must accompany the rhetoric.

Radical social reform can be painful. There is churn and resentment when a new movement starts and sometimes, hard-line measures are required to push that reform through. However, it is important to keep the long-term objective in mind when viewing the short-term impact. If the French can successfully relegate the burqa and the burkini to the dustbin of history within their country, imagine the precedent it would set for other societies to overcome the systemic and historic oppression of women.

Amit Nangia

Amit Nangia

The author is a learning and development professional with a background in finance and human resources that informs his commentaries on geopolitical and socioeconomic trends. He tweets as @amitnangia06 (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Jayman

    Was Burkini invented by Phantom – The Ghost Who Walks?
    Just curious.Recommend

  • a

    “Across the western world, women today are on an equal footing with men”

    Don’t think so, I think women here are more naked than men, no equality. Men’s shorts go down to the knees and are baggy while women’s are much shorter and tighter and expose almost full legs. Men on average wear tops that are loosely fit while women wear ones that expose almost all of their breasts. Also women’s breast’s and other openings are viewable/tellable but men can’t run around with erect pieces. I don’t see any equality here. It’s more of exploitation of women and fulfillment of men’s lustful desires on a grand scale than equality, with women un-wittingly playing along thinking they are being “liberated”.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Completely agree with you France has every right to ban the burkini……just as it has the right not to ban the burkini. France has to do what is not only good for France but that which upholds its nations values. Considering that 10% of the French population is Muslim and economically depressed, its decision must be diplomatic and sagacious…..FORCING an issue ( banning the burkini ) that is rightly or wrongly easily linked to religion, seems unwise.Recommend

  • Cheebz

    Thank you for your long essay… But would like to inform you that it’s french citizens that are demanding these burkinis, not visitors or tourists. There is hypocrisy on the government’s side that they claim to be human rights defenders yet oppress opinion. Thank you for “liberal” thinking but many choose to be most or traditional. If you have issue with that, then please sort your issues at home. Recommend

  • Supriya Arcot

    Sane and balanced thoughts . These things are demanded by ‘newcomers’ . Most of the original inhabitants ( which ever religion/ race they belong to ) have integrated well into their host country. They are in IT / banks / SW firms going ‘in the flow’.Recommend

  • st_aubrun

    The burkini ban imposed in certain small towns was against French law and was struck down by the French constitutional court. In other words, by your own argument, they had no right to do it.Recommend

  • Xyz

    Exploitation and objectification of women and their bodies is everywhere…both in West and East. Whether a woman feels compelled to expose her breasts or cover up…both are two sides of the same coin. However in West women have more choices, they do not get killed for honor, they are not punished for refusing a man’s advances, they are not expected to confine themselves at home, they are not taught that their primary duty and purpose is to have babies and take care of the husband, they are not expected to curb their sexuality and their virginity determining eligibility for marriage or judgment of their character. So despite exploitation, objectification..they are still much better off than women in East.Recommend

  • Fahim

    On same logic why France consider Nazis wrong. German people German rule according to same logic ?Recommend

  • Ranhja

    Fascist philosophy. Only expected from RSS. Are you a member?Recommend

  • a

    “in West women have more choices” -< what's the other choice here? to stay away from the beach?

    Using women as trophies and marketing symbols came from the west. East didnt invent putting naked women on ads for selling tractors, trucks and cigarettes. They do expect women and men to be moderately dressed in public and they are not hypocritical about it. All western constitutions proclaim giving freedoms of religion, assembly, beliefs and expression but the the real practice in this case is different than advertised.

    Covering up is more closer to human nature and psychy than being nude, we are not animals.Recommend

  • Rajkarn Kaur Anand

    Absolutely agree.. very well written!Recommend

  • SuperNeo™

    France or any Non Mus|im country has full rights to ban any |s|am related things. if mus|im can declare their countries |s|amic republic…why can’t non mus|ims declare their country Non |s|amic.

    just because they have let them in their country , they don’t need to suffer or change any law in country to adjust them. if they want to get rid from their home culture they need to adopt that country’s values and accept laws,

    otherwise fill Boeing and Airbus planes with these peoples start deporting them back.Recommend

  • Sufi

    So if “their country their rule” is the logic and argument then the Psedoliberals like you are also going to support Saudi Arabia for their ban on women’s right to drive and CII in Pakistan for light beating punishment for women because it’s their country their rule. Also the blasphemy law in Pakistan. You people also going to support ISIS who involved in killing innocent citizens because they are in power in the area they have captured so it’s their country their rule.
    # Psedoliberals hypocrisy Recommend

  • a

    now i can guess who this Xyz is as my reply was not posted. Shame on ET editors and moderators for suppressing opinions and posting only what they think goes along their agendaRecommend

  • NKAli

    Get one thing loud and clear author, if other women want to go around flouting their sex all over the place…….the majority of Muslim women will not. Viva Muslim women who cover their modesty. Have a nice day. Recommend

  • Baabu Rao

    It’s not the same logic and a wrong comparison!Recommend

  • Babu Rao

    Please read the long essay again as I suspect you haven’t actually been able to grab the message.Recommend

  • Khan

    Not sure how such ignorance get space for writing in newspapers. Mr…. France is home to millions of Muslim Nationals and their rights and Freedom have to be respected. If it was Hindustan, banning could be understood But “So called” beacons of civilization and Protector of individual Freedom (I.e. Western nation) shows their hypocrisy and their false claims.Recommend

  • naeemhussain

    Yes you are right if the target are Muslim than shamelessly people like you support the most unjust things in the name of law and freedom.Recommend

  • Fahim

    Read the title with the help of binocular “Their country, their rules”Recommend

  • genesys

    .the majority of Muslim women will not….and the majority of Muslim women should not go to these lands to preserve their ‘modesty’ and impose their way of life.There 54 beautiful islamic nations where they are one is sure very welcome.Recommend

  • genesys

    These french citizens are demanding the wrong things and cannot impose their views on the majority.Like Pakistani Hindus who are citizens of Pakistan but are denied many rights and simple privileges like cremation?Recommend

  • genesys

    obscenity is in the eye of the beholder and look at the ISIS beasts and how they treat the Yezidi women.It is supposed to be ruled by Caliph the ultimate authority in Islamic tradition..Is that OKRecommend

  • Sami

    France is a permanent member of UN. The permanent members of UN call themselves first world and then dictate their rules worldwide. They even have a Veto power which more than 90 percent countries do not have. They claim to rule the world. These same countries wage wars in other countries based on the so called principles. France is a part of coalition that wanted to have democracy in the Middle east.

    So “if their country, their rules” formula apply to them, then the existence of UN is a question mark in my view. Also the invasion of other countries for the application of Western rules does not make much sense to me based on this same formula.

    The global organizations for democracy, equality and all other rules and regulations must end as every country have the right to do whatever they want to do in their own territory.Recommend

  • pathanoo

    I don’t understand. If you do NOT want to learn, adapt and accomodate the Western culture and still want to live in the 7th Century culture of the Arabs then why do you go to the West. You beg, cajole and grovel to get in and then show how ungrateful you are. Why don’t you go to the Muslim Paradise of Saudi Arabia where they treat any other non-Arab Mulism worse than dogs. I used to to go to Suadi Arabia and have seen it with my own eyes and many of my Muslims friends also told me when I was there. There you Muslims live like dogs with their tales between legs.Recommend

  • nedian

    France following Saudi, imposing what they think is right, on everybody..Recommend

  • Saleh Kakar

    Yeah and Saudia has every right to stone the women’s raped – Their country their rules!!!Recommend

  • Jayman

    Why don’t you demand the same “human rights” from your Arab ‘brothers’?Recommend

  • Mike Pilgrim

    France bombs Mali and Syria, when Mali and Syria tell France it is their country their rules. French rules are racism abusing the term laws.Recommend

  • Aqeel

    It’s a very poor article. Biased and based on anti Islam views. Ban on Burqini was a severe violation of basic human rights. A very strange tactic. And this is a very disgusting article. Condemnable. “If the French can successfully relegate the burqa and the burkini to the dustbin of history within their country”. These are very biased and hateful words. Author should learn some ethics at least.Recommend

  • Myrna Minkoff

    The ban has been overturned. You can all stop spewing verbal diarrhea on the Internet now. Go back to discussing real issues instead of debating what a tiny group of women in a far-off country should wear.Recommend

  • siesmann

    You forget that overwhelming majority of Germans reject Nazis;It is no German ruleRecommend

  • siesmann

    .People were mostly a little curious about these clothes,and many were even appreciative
    Burqa,neither Burqini is the problem;Problem is extremismRecommend

  • siesmann

    No they are not. Only Islamic countries mandate impositions that are non-negotiable.Recommend

  • siesmann

    People from Muslim Nations certainly don’t have right to dictate the laws to other countries that they routinely forego and trample under feet.Recommend

  • siesmann

    France has easily overturned the said ban. Try even talking about the issues you mention are in Islamic countries,and you will most likely be ostracized.Recommend

  • siesmann

    Men in non-Muslims countries don’t force women to wear clothes of any type. Muslims do. And that is the problem.Exploitation is where something is forced.Recommend

  • Videlicet

    Very logical argument. Well said!Recommend

  • Fahim

    Standing ovationRecommend

  • Razi Mallick

    The article’s contents can be broken into multiple disintegrated pieces. At the beginning the writer appreciates rights the women gained through a long sustained struggle, especially in the western countries, to take their destiny in their own hands, which inter alia included decision making rights about their dressing.
    The writer opined that France being a secular and liberal society, and also having some specific set of values, has no place for dresses like brukini. He also mentioned intolerant polices of the Middle Eastern countries to strengthen his view about brukini ban. He suggested channeling protests through judicial process only.
    The writer criticized brukini invention in a non-Muslim country. He also suggested that brukini is combination of burqa and niqab and consequently carries ideological baggage. He questioned double-standards of Muslim men, that while they themselves move bare-chested but make their women to believe to cover their body.
    After reading the whole article I tried to figure out reason the writer thinks to justify brukini ban, but could not find any.
    1. Invention of brukini in a non-Muslim country has no contradiction. In the modern globally integrated economies, free cross-border movement of goods is a common phenomenon for the businesses to maximize their gains.
    2. Suggestion that burqa having and ideological baggage qualifies to be banned is not rational. He did not explain ideological baggage and its being harmful for the society.
    3. Labeling Muslim men moving bare-chest hypocritical is quite outrageous and shows contempt of the writer for the whole Muslim community. Bare-chested men culture is not confined to Muslim men only. Also gender relationship is not a mathematical equation. Gender relation can be broken into two components. One is natural and the other is socially constructed. Every society has to make socially constructed gender relationship equitable keeping in view the natural construction.
    4. Any suggestion to limit rights of protest through judicial process is gross violation of freedom of expressions.
    5. Justifying ban based on secular and liberal values is in contradiction to basic theme of these values itself. These values are based on equality to all citizens without any exceptions.
    6. Comparing Middle Eastern countries with France has no rational justification except if the people are in the mode of tit-for-tit doctrine. Why a country founded on secular and liberal value structure will victimize its own citizen, especially the converted Muslims whose roots are ingrained in the same soil. They have no place to go. Tit-for-tat doctrine generates ripple effects which goes far beyond any one’s own imaginations and has the potential risks of unintended dangerous consequences.
    The ban was imposed in some small towns at the lowest tier of the governance structure, the level at which the people making decisions have generally impulsive behaviors and very narrow world view. That is the reason that the ban was declared unconstitutional by the French court, where the decision makers have capacity to see in a wider context and far beyond horizon. Visionaries are never carried away by the prevailing momentarily compulsive environments. They see repercussions generations ahead.

  • a

    Well muslims don’t force any specif dress, they only don’t allow men or women to be nude in the streets and nto being nude differentiates us from animals

    Non-muslims in this case in france are forcing women to take off their dressRecommend

  • a

    If obscenity was in the eye of the beholder, why did we invent clothes?Recommend

  • Ahmad

    Then Why you people Cry when Trump Says He will ban Muslims Travelling to USA. Its Their Country their Rules Right.Recommend

  • Saleh Kakar

    You didn’t get the Sarcasm did you?Recommend

  • Ahmad

    LOL Okay I get that, My bad!!Recommend