Wednesday, 24 August 2016

THE FASHION POLICE


France has a history of seeking secular neutrality among its citizens - and a more recent history of violent attacks on its citizens by foreign fighters associated (by themselves and others) with a particular form of fundamentalist religious belief.

None of this should permit the sort of scenes that unfolded today in Nice - sadly a recent victim of a horrific mass slaughter - when police officers surrounded a woman on a beach there, and ordered her to remove a piece of clothing she was wearing.  A "Burkini".

This is wrong for many reasons, and we here count four:

Firstly, France is the home of international fashion.  The very ethos of fashion is that while some styles are in vogue, many outrageous, outre and shocking styles can be worn publically. The bikini itself is, in many ways, a product of the cinematic glamorous Cannes lifestyle that sexually-provactive French culture has long endorsed in its more liberal phases. French fashion also has a disturbing historical association with fascism. Given this, it hardly seems apt for France to dictate to any woman, indeed person, on what is and is not "wearable". If the clothes fit, they should be acquitted - even if they do not. Every culture and subsculture, has a style, a look, from Punk, to baggy Zoot suits, to preppy button-down - and whether one is a Mennonite, Amish, a Mormon, a Pope, or a hipster - one's clothing should be one's creative, personal, private right to select.  Otherwise the state is imposing a series of accepted uniforms.

Secondly, as many before me have observed, the burkini is no more offensive or concealing a garment than certain other sun-protecting clothes; and is hardly different in style from wetsuits. While the burkini does tend to signify affiliation with a particular set of religious beliefs, anyone can wear one - just as an actor is legally allowed to wear a priest's cassock on stage, and just as at costume parties, people can dress like doctors, policemen, nurses, firemen, monsters, etc. - to suggest that a burkini, which implies body modesty perhaps, is forbidden - but semi-clad nudity is allowed - is to prioritise one particular set of values above others - but not universally-shared ones.  Many people prefer to stay modest at the beach, to avoid skin cancer, prying eyes, or for any number of personal reasons.

Thirdly, it is counter-productive to target a minority, with grievances against the state, thereby somewhat legitimizing a sense of victimhood; this is fuel to the fire.  Radicalisation is likely to occur seeing the oppressive indignities thrust upon this harmless, innocent woman minding her own business. The claim that this sort of bathing costume can conceal weapons is absurd - beach bags, towels, and any number of beach items can as well.

Finally, and most simply - leave women alone.  The state has a bad history of telling women what to do.  In apparently seeking to protect women from religious oppression, French law is imposing a far graver oppression - attempting to nullify a woman's right to choose what set of beliefs she lives - and dresses - by.
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