Opinion: Judges, politics and the burkini | Opinion | DW | 26.08.2016
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Opinion: Judges, politics and the burkini

The burkini ban has caused quite a stir in France. Now the country's highest administrative court has suspended the ban on burkinis for the time being. It is a good decision, writes DW's Martin Muno.

Does the burkini pose a threat to the population, French society or even Western values? Up until a few weeks ago, any person with common sense would have responded by shaking their head decidedly.

In times of terror and the ideological rise of right-wing populist movements across Europe, reason seems to be diminishing, even though in France there is no factual connection between terrorist attacks and women swimming.

Arms against fabric

And yet that is why armed policemen patrolled beaches to enforce laws in around 30 French municipalities. They asked women to remove long-sleeved garments or they would otherwise have to pay a fine. It was a humiliating process for those addressed and a huge propaganda victory for all kinds of Islamist fundamentalists.

The term "burkini" does not appear in any decrees. Actually, people are told that they will be denied access to public beaches if they do not wear "decent clothing that respects decency and secularism," thereby opening the door to arbitrary rules. Women who do not even wear a burkini, but instead, lie on the beach wearing long dresses and headscarves are also targeted. Theoretically, a woman could commit an offense even if she had a sun allergy.

Decency – here and there

The phrase "decent clothing that respects decency" is also used in many states in the Muslim world where women are encouraged to cover as much of their bodies as possible. According to this rationale, non-decent clothing turns every woman lying on the beach into a whore or a potential terrorist. Welcome to an absurd world – or to a completely narrow-minded male chauvinist one.

Muno Martin Kommentarbild App

DW Editor Martin Muno

You can see how political culture is being shaped largely by populist moods and little by the French ideals of "liberty, equality and fraternity." Now, Nicolas Sarkozy, who is hoping to return to the presidency, does not recoil from right-wing ideas, and neither does the socialist prime minister, Manuel Valls, who is an advocate of the burkini ban. It shows the appalling manner in which National Front leader Marine Le Pen is steering an entire political class.

Freedom and leisure

You have to thank the judges of the highest administrative court for suspending the ban, albeit temporarily. They expressed themselves clearly: The decree violates individual and religious freedom.

A liberal constitutional state should not dictate how its citizens dress, although dress codes may be useful to the police, military, courts and, to a certain extent, schools. In public places, especially the beach, a place of freedom and leisure, it is an expression of an authoritarian state ideal. A democracy that needs to resort to that is on the path to failure.

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