Burkini Weather

Last week French police officers patrolling the beaches along the Côte d’Azur towards Nice, where handed an extra task: to look out for burkinis – swimwear that covers the body and head, which is preferred by orthodox Muslim women and other women wanting to avoid exposure to too much sun, but is now banned by a growing number of towns.

Burkini Group
Photo by Charles Roffey

The weekend before some tourists taking photographs of women in burkinis were attacked by men of Arabic origin. Cars were burned, eight people were badly injured and five men were arrested on charges of armed assault and face trial next month. After Nice, Cannes followed suit in banning burkinis, then Villeneuve-Loubet, then six more towns. So far four women have been cautioned, liable to fines of €38 each. Cannes police said other women approached by officers had left the beach or changed into bikinis. As someone living in a predominantly Muslim country I find this last part very hard to believe. A woman who is covered in public is highly unlikely to respond to a threat of a €38 fine by taking off her all encompassing burkini before slipping into an Itsy bitsi teenie weenie yellow polka dot bikini.

Some police officers admit to an element of what they see as absurdity in adding the new category of “religious offences” to their usual roster of “promiscuity offences” and “public order offences”. But the mood is hardening especially in Nice – scene of the 14 July massacre when a 19-tonne truck was deliberately driven into crowds killing 85 people. France passed a law in 2004 banning religious symbols and clothing, like crosses, Jewish kippas, and headscarves, in public schools. However, all this did was increase the demand for private Muslim schools, pushing even more Muslims out of the mainstream instead of integrating them. A similar law banning the burqa in public spaces was passed in 2010. One quite rightly wonders what would happen if the police came upon a group of Hasidic Jews sitting at a beach side cafe dressed in their characteristic black suits and hats. Also how would they deal with a party of Sikhs all wearing their distinctive turbans or for that matter a Hindu woman in full sari and headscarf having a paddle with her kids? All of these dress codes are rooted in religion and as such should also be banned if the letter of the law is being followed as it is now with a tiny minority of Muslim woman, who have little choice but to wear a burkini if they want to swim.

If you are a regular reader you will already know that I am suspicious of any organised religion, whose overt or covert intolerance of any belief system, other than their own, I regard as little more than sectarian racism. However, beyond the rhetoric and the seemingly endless quest for more followers and finance to push each other’s blinkered agendas, there are many innocents who have little choice. Growing up in a liberal society I was able to make a conscious choice as to whether to pursue or reject the religious path laid out for me by my parents. However, there are many places in the world where this is simply not possible without facing profound consequences. Pressure from the state or perhaps some dictatorship you are born into or because of the egregious penalties, which may be inflicted by your own families are usually enough of a deterrent. Indeed, the nominal penalty for apostasy – the leaving of one’s religion – within some extreme Muslim societies is the threat of, and in some instances actual execution.

Burkinis on Beach
Photo by Charles Roffey

In most cases these burkini clad women have little choice in the matter. Add to this the mismatch of dress regulations handed down by male clerics as a result of one interpretation or other of the Koran and a woman’s room for choice in clothing is all but taken away from her. While many woman may be expected to wear a headscarf at the very least and dress Modestly by not exposing anymore flesh other than her face hands and feet no such restrictions are applied to their husbands, sons or brothers. It is now quite common in my quiet corner of Turkey to come across women wearing Burkin’s who, when they are not in the water are perhaps sitting next to their husbands, who are wearing Speedo’s so skimpy and tight they would make any German man, always champions of the flimsiest swim wear – no matter how old or fat they are – , green with envy. I first wrote about this starkly inequitable spectacle about 3 years ago in my piece Barbie in a Headscarf.

It is perhaps not my place to express any strong opinion on the position of woman in Muslim male dominated societies. However, I would have hoped that the people who make up the rules and regulations about what is and is not appropriate on these French town’s beaches at least understand that the wearing of a burkini is not a provocation but rather the only way some women will ever enjoy the delight of swimming in a warm sea. My own, personal thoughts are that these garments can be unsafe if not downright dangerous if the wearer goes too far out or the conditions become choppy – for rarely have I seen a woman not struggling with the metres of fabric used to make one simply to stay afloat. Still that is their choice to make and not the right of some town’s petty bureaucracy to ban it as a knee jerk response to events elsewhere. It doesn’t have to come down to one religion against another – which is how it comes across from most media outlets, and is exactly the message the religious extremists, who claimed the atrocities in France, want to use to boost their own sophisticated internet recruitment. The shame is that there was always a simple solution but somehow it just got lost in the political hyperbole.

Burkini and surfboard
Photo by Omar Sasha

Designated safe areas for swimming in heavy swimwear for people of any religious or *none religious persuasion. St Tropez and the Côte d’Azur were once at the forefront of personal freedom of expression with the first official topless bathing and then later by allowing public nudist beaches. So how difficult would it have been to have simply designated a very small area of beach as a safe area to swim for burkini clad women? Perhaps underlining the ‘health and safety’ element of the designation by thoughtfully providing a female life guard just in case a lady got into distress. This way the issue may have got little more than a brief mention on some local news program before being quickly forgotten. Instead the ongoing impression from the worlds media coverage, as the ban works its way along the coast like a contagion, is that it is little more than politically motivated Islamophobia.

* Why the ban has actually made the sale of burkinis go up particularly for woman who simply want to avoid the harmful effects of the sun.


Brexit, What Have They Done?

Now that the dust has started to settle on the UK Referendum result it is a little easier to react without the shock, anger, passion and panic that was a feature of the days following the Leave campaigners win by just a million votes. The first question should be: Why despite thousands of official voices and expert opinions and dire warnings, from almost every voice that mattered warning us about what would happen… what is now happening, did just over half the people who bothered to vote, vote to leave the European Union? It is not as if there was anything substantive being said by the experts on the Leave side, particularly when referring to the economy that could not be demolished after closer scrutiny or put down to along the lines of: less regulation = less workers rights = lower wages = more profit for the few. It is also quite telling that in the days following the vote the two biggest voices by far in favour of a Brexit ran for the hills: Nigel Farage resigned after strutting around like a peacock and telling the EU Parliament ‘told you so’ and Boris Johnson, who, after being stabbed in the back by the sociopath Michael Gove, his co-leaving right hand-man, seemed to decide he was not interested in clearing up the mess he had helped create. However, it now seems his withdrawal from the leadership race was part of a deal with Theresa May, so she could win, in exchange for him being given the plum job of Foreign Secretary

Brexit leave campaign
Photo by Raceclass

Ironically Boris only went for Leave because David Cameron went for Remain. He had privately revealed that had Cameron gone for Leave he would have probably canvassed for Remain instead. This self interested political manoeuvring of just one man has quite possibly condemned the UK to a very uncertain future because even the most Remain orientated pollsters have estimated that Boris’s performance against the passionate Remain Cameron and the totally indifferent leader of the Labour party Jeremy Corbyn added about 2% to the Leave vote, which proved just enough for them to win.

The Economist on Brexit
Photo by Dr. Motte

In the end the vote had very little to do with Europe and a lot more to do with the divisions in our society and the settling of old scores against the ruling elite. However, the most significant issue was in fact a non-issue: Migration and Asylum Seekers from mainly outside the EU. The Leave campaign did not shy away from playing the race card. Every day they portrayed the UK sinking under the weight of Asylum Seekers and Migrants that are entering Europe as a result of several conflicts, mainly the Syrian War. This war could have been stopped years ago if only Vladimir Putin would stop supporting the murderous Assad regime. Yes there are talks of naval bases but his main reason for perpetuating this terrible conflict was because of its growing destabilising effect on the EU whose member states are at loggerheads trying to deal with the growing flow of refugees. We all know that Germany took in over 1 million refugees and migrants last year but what the people in the Leave camp failed to admit during their shameful campaigns, which mirrored those used by Adolf Hitler against the Jewish people, is that a grand total of just 216 refugees and economic migrants from outside the EU were settled in the UK during the same period.

Of course there is always a protest element to any vote and there would have been some who would have voted No even if the Referendum had asked Do you want free Ice-cream? Not anarchist, more people who just feel they are not listened to by politicians or simply those who are willing to cut their own noses off to spite their face if it means they can be heard. The other two divisions this vote shone a blinding light on were the difference between Northern England and Southern England and also the equally large divide between the generations. Northern England suffered more than most areas during the UK’s decline from the traditional manufacturing industries such as ship building and steel at the same time as the coal mining industry imploded in the early 80’s. Those people and the communities these businesses supported were always going to be prone to vote anything other than what They want us to vote for.

Others have got it into their heads that leaving the EU would take the UK back to those golden years of strong manufacturing sustained by strong unions – as if unproductive mines and uncompetitive priced steel and ships would miraculously find a market in a now more fiercely competitive globalised world. I know quite a lot of people where actually swayed by the noises made about the UK fishing industry benefitting from an exclusion of EU fishing boats from British waters. This was spurred on by speeches along the lines of ‘remember when we had a strong fishing fleet?’ although truth be told fishermen in their droves were leaving the industry because of dwindling catches long before the UK joined the EU in 1973. How that would be different now I have no idea and as for overfishing, how long will it be before a few multinational buys into a fleet of British based boats so that they can do exactly what the EU based factory ships have been doing all along – basically netting or vacuuming every living creature within range of these monster ships.

London, keep calm and carry on
Photo by Malavoda

The other definite split between the Remain and Leave vote was seen between the young and the old. I remember re-tweeting one young girls plea “not to let our parents and grandparents steal our future”. She quite rightly pointed out that many of the older voters would be dead before the true scale of lost opportunities and freedom of movement was definitely known. When asked most of the older voters came out with something about migrants and on the economy something vague about Britain being Great again often ending with “like we were before we joined the EU” Although I suspect that is just false nostalgia kicking in or a yearning for who they remember themselves to be 43 years ago: Younger, healthier and perhaps a little richer than they are now as they struggle to get by on a small pension. A reality check would remind them that in the early 70’s Britain was anything but Great. Endless strikes, three day weeks, power cuts, little or no prospects to escape ones social class through education or job mobility. As for Britain being Great – I grew up in an atmosphere where the older people would refer to the Great British Empire as if it was still a reality. Although it had been in terminal decline since the avoidable catastrophe that was Indian Patrician in 1947 and Britain’s further humiliation up to and including The Suez Crisis in 1956.

Finally, if Brexit really means Brexit as the new Prime Minister Therasa May continuously tells us – as if trying to convince herself it isn’t a disaster – then we need to stop looking to the past and concentrate on the future. Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be… so if there is going to be any soft landing from the world shock that is Brexit, it will only be possible if the British people take off the rose tinted glasses they are prone to using to view a past that never really was, a past that tended to limit any prosperity to the ruling elite and big business. The EU referendum was, if nothing else, a rejection of Westminster and those ruling elites who thought that they really believed they knew what was best for the ordinary people without ever really bothering to ask them. So our only hope of salvaging something from Brexit is to negotiate what we can from the many, many good things Europe has/had to offer and strike the best deal possible. Then we must start to look forward, not back, by making extra efforts to ensure we create a better future that includes everyone on our small Islands not just the chattering classes and dinner party crowds of Southern England. Now we are leaving the EU some commentators have declared that Britain may never be Great again. But if we work hard at including everyone and avoid turning in on ourselves, then maybe just maybe we could one day prefix Britain with a more achievable adjective like Good, Gracious or even just a simple Better Britain.