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More than just cloth

Riegert Bernd Kommentarbild App
Bernd Riegert
August 16, 2016

Summer silliness, a storm in a teacup, or something more? Towns in France are banning the burkini, and it’s time that Germany also give the matter some thought, says DW’s Bernd Riegert.

Burkini Schwimmbad Berlin
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S.Pilick

Three French towns have banned women from bathing on public beaches in so-called burkinis, a type of full-body swimwear that is compatible with Sharia, or Islamic law. It is a tough move, but not an unreasonable one. The mayors argued that in terror-ridden France, such symbols of Islamic extremism should not be part of everyday life. A court has affirmed this view.

In principle, everyone should be able to go swimming dressed how they want - whether completely covered or totally naked - as long as no one else feels upset or bothered. That's when freedom starts to be impinged on.

Bathing in a burkini is said to be an expression of religious freedom - but this has its limits. It's not an absolute basic right, neither in Germany nor in France. Religious freedom ends when it impinges on the rights of others. This becomes an issue not just with the burkini, but also the full-body garment known as the burqa, the face veil, or niqab, and the headscarf, or hijab. Such items of clothing are intended as protection from sexually aggressive men who would otherwise attack an unveiled woman. They stand for an absurd, medieval view of masculinity, one that ought to be outright rejected. Not all men are lecherous animals.

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Bernd Riegert is DW's European correspondent

As a man, I feel I'm being attacked and discriminated against by such articles of clothing which are worn for show. If it were really about religion and protecting people from unwanted sexual attention, then men should equally have to cover up and hide their appeal from lustful women – or, probably much worse from an Islamic moral standpoint, lustful homosexuals.

Men in Iran have begun highlighting the absurdity of the dress codes that stem from the Koran in modern day society. Some have taken to wearing headscarves and veils themselves to protest Iran's laws imposing the Sharia dress code for Iranian women.

And yes, it's true that, 300 years ago, women in Europe hid their hair under bonnets, and that 100 years ago, they would only bathe in the sea in full-body swimsuits. But the world has moved on since then. The ban in France, by the way, does not specifically target Muslims. Orthodox Jews who would bathe fully clothed would be equally affected. In today's world, religious groups should attempt to adapt somewhat to the widely accepted common culture. If I belonged to a religion that compelled me to be completely naked, then I also wouldn't be able to practice this all the time; otherwise I would risk offending or upsetting other people.

Burkinis banned on 3 French beaches

The only EU states that have banned full-face veils are France and Belgium. They are supplanting a mistaken understanding of tolerance. A ban on burkinis on public beaches is thus not a big stretch. Germany is less consistent on such matters and has a lot of catching up to do. Once again, there is discussion about banning burqas and burkinis in some communities. German courts have ruled, at least, that Muslim girls must take part in swimming lessons that are part of the school curriculum. This is an example of where the state has prioritized education over a misguided notion of religious freedom. As a religion, Islam belongs in Europe just as much as Christianity or Judaism. But burqas, full-body garments, burkinis and other ideologically laden items of clothing have no role here. All they do is force outdated ideas of morality on women, and cast men as sex-obsessed predators, both of which are unacceptable.

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Riegert Bernd Kommentarbild App
Bernd Riegert Senior European correspondent in Brussels with a focus on people and politics in the European Union
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