basta — the burkini is not a choice


Muslim girls

The problem of what Muslims living in Europe can and cannot do flares up every now and then following every outrage by Islamic terrorists on European territory.

The latest being whether Muslim women should be allowed to wear the burkini ( a bathing outfit that covers the whole body  except for the face, hands and feet) on the beach. France has banned the swimsuit partly on cultural or security grounds.

This has provoked anger among some Muslim communities as well as the “guardians” of liberal values. It is morally indefensible to ban women from wearing something as it is to force them to wear it, they argued.  The liberals who say so seem to have no idea how patriarchal social structures operate.

This ostensibly sound argument fails to take into account the context in which the so called Islamisation of the private as well as the public space, and not least the body of Muslim women,  has been taking place.

Please note that the same debate has been raging on in Muslim majority countries in the Middle East and North Africa ever since the rise of political Islam,  but critical voices of Islamism and its aftermath are never reflected in the Western debate for obvious reasons.

The liberal defence of those who “choose” the burkini assumes – wrongly in my opinion — a moral equivalence between forcing women to wear hijab, niqab or burkini and banning the religious dress in public.

Surely not every woman who wears any of these outfits is forced to do so. But collectively, culturally, they are. To understand this one has to go back just one generation to see how Muslim majority countries had more or less found a modus vivendi with modern universal values of equal rights between the sexes,  even when that has not been enshrined in the law in their respective societies.


What the “guardians” of liberal values  overlook is the wider context in which the observance of the so called Islamic dress code is taking place.  That context is called the growth of a political and highly ideologised version of the faith (backed up with petrodollars from Qatar and Saudi Arabia ) and is often associated with belligerence at best and barbaric violence at worst.

While not denying that some  Muslim women do “choose”,  the social and political context in which this happens renders the notion of choice quite meaningless.

If Islamism had been a socially conservative movement of piety and quietist religious observance with no violence attached to it,  I think most liberal societies would have happily or not so happily lived with it as they do with Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Amish or the Hare Krishnas.   But that is far from being the case when it comes to Islamism.

We know that strict observance and the ghettoisation of Muslims living in Western societies are only the first steps towards the kind of identity crisis that can – given the right personality make up – become a walking time bomb . Inculcating into the minds of young European Muslims ideas of Muslim superiority  and that the West is immoral (as the preachers of hate often do)  serves to legitimise violence against Western “infidels” by devaluing them as human beings.

This is for example what Egyptian-German scholar Hamid Abdelsamad writes in his book  (The Collapse of the Islamic World, published by Merit 2010) about Islamism in Europe and its ambition :

“Supporters of political Islam in the West are not content with merely imposing ethical norms that are on collision course with Western customs, but they are demanding from Western governments partial introduction of Sharia to resolve family disputes among the Muslim diaspora. Some of them believe that ‘implementing Sharia diet’ (barring stoning of the adulteress and chopping off the hand of thieves) will be some kind of a ‘Trojan horse’ through which Muslims will enter the heart of the European law and eventually Islamicise it.

Some of the decision makers and Christian leaders in the West are so naïve to believe that there is such a thing as partial sharia [my italics]. They don’t know that there is no “semi-skimmed Sharia”,  implementing sharia can be likened to “pregnancy”,  you  can never be half-pregnant.  It is not an open buffet where you have the option to choose between vegetarian or meat dishes. Sharia as understood by the extremists is a complete system that should penetrate all aspects of life and that it is part and parcel of an authoritarian ideology that divides the world into believers and unbelievers, a house of peace and house of war.

Some decision makers in the West have been taken in by the propaganda of political Islam which claims that Sharia is consistent with civilian {secular} law. Why don’t they ask themselves then :  if that is the case,  why do Islamists insist on applying Sharia and are not content with the civilian law ? “

Mr Abdelsamad sums up the context in which the creeping Islamisation of the secular space – private and public – by people who are vehemently opposed to the values of  tolerance and democracy or the principle of freedom of choice that they so blatantly use and abuse to impose their world order on others,  the so called female dress code being one among many of their demands.  It is in that context that the question of burqa or burkini  should be considered.

The conflict between Islamists and their Western hosts highlights once again that democracy is a vulnerable system that can be hijacked by its enemies for a destination that is anything but democratic,  that station is called “protecting our Islamic identity”.




Magdi Abdelhadi

Writer, broadcaster, moderator, media consultant. I commute between London and Cairo. I am a former BBC journalist. All views here are only mine.

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