From Bikinis to Burkinis

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Michel Amiel, mayor of Les Pennes-Mirabeau, a town next to Marseilles on the French Riviera, has indicated that he is prepared to issue a decree banning a burkini bathing event at the town’s Speed Water Park.

A burkini is a swimsuit that covers the entire body except for the face, hands and feet.

The event, restricted to women, girls and boys under the age of 10, is being organized by Smile 13, a cultural, sport and self-help nonprofit for Muslim women and children. Smile 13 claims to have rented the water park for September 10 and in its promotional flyer states that “Bathing in a burkini is authorized.”

While not strictly-speaking illegal, the mayor nevertheless decided to ban the event because it is likely to lead to a breach of the peace. “I am shocked and angry,” he said. “I consider this event to be a provocation that we don’t need in the current climate. It is pure religious isolationism.”

Local politicians from the Republican Party and National Front have also spoken out against the event.

Stéphane Ravier, National Front mayor of the Marseilles 7th District, issued the following statement:

“This Islamic day demonstrates that beyond the reassuring narrative of Muslim authorities, a substantial number of Muslims are voluntarily cutting themselves off from the French way of life and distancing themselves from our society.

“It is a shocking scandal that will not surprise those who, like myself, are in daily contact with realities that show the retreat of our values and the encroachment of religious isolationism, for example the proliferation in the streets of Marseilles of illegal Islamic dress, to which the municipal and political authorities turn a blind eye.

“These everyday capitulations in the face of religious isolationism are nurturing Islamic radicalism and the tragic events we have recently seen.”

A spokesperson for Smile 13 accused those who are against the event of being narrow-minded.

As for the Speed Waterpark, their management confirmed that a price quote had been issued to Smile 13 for the rental of their facilities for September 10, but that no booking had been made.

This controversy is just one example of how the emergence of Islam as a major religion in France is causing social and political tensions in a country whose primary value system (dating back to the French Revolution) is based on aggressive secularism in the public sphere.

Further north in a suburb of Paris, another mayor has intervened to resist the encroachment of Islamic tenets into community living.

The Good Price supermarket in the town of Colombes was granted a lease by the local authority to operate a general food store. Once the store was up and running, pork and alcohol were removed from the shelves. After complaints from local residents, the mayor of Colombes, Nicole Goueta, went to the store and asked the owner to diversify the range of products sold by adding alcohol and non-halal meats.

The owner refused to comply with this request and the mayor decided to issue legal proceedings to revoke the lease.

The attempts by Smile 13 and the Good Price supermarket owner are representative of a refusal to do as the Romans do when in Rome. Are the decisions of Mayors Amiel and Goueta justifiable?

On the one hand, it could be argued that their opposition is likely to antagonize their Muslim constituents and exacerbate social tensions.

On the other hand, one can argue that accommodation is never a wise policy, since it sends a signal that the demands being made are given by right, thereby shifting the boundaries further and encouraging more and wider demands.

It is not unreasonable for the population of a host country to require those arriving from the outside not only to adapt but also adopt indigenous mores and customs. If the immigrants wish to retain the mores and customs of their country of origin, they should at least remain discreet in their observances and above all not antagonize the host communities.

One of the most striking examples of cultural assimilation in European history is Ireland, an island nation that experienced successive waves of invasion by the Vikings, Normans and English between the 9th and 14th centuries.

The descendants of these invaders and settlers had been significantly Gaelicized by the late Middle Ages, forming clans modelled on the indigenous Gaelic pattern. This gave rise to the phrase “more Irish than the Irish themselves,” coined by John Lynch (1599–1677) in his history of ancient Ireland.

The Statutes of Kilkenny (1366) was a series of laws enacted by the Hiberno-Norman elite aimed at arresting this process of assimilation, complaining that “many English of the said land, forsaking the English language, manners, mode of riding, laws and usages, live and govern themselves according to the manners, fashion, and language of the Irish enemies.”

Such discourse is not far from the injunctions of Islamic fundamentalists in 21st century France, who enjoin their congregants not to assimilate but to assert their Muslim identity and live in parallel communities.

Meanwhile, armed soldiers are patrolling French beaches and many of the cultural and sporting events that are a feature of the French summer holidays have been cancelled for fear of Islamic terror attacks.

The Beach Music Festival at Berck on the Normandy coast was called off two days before it was due to begin on August 4.

The traditional summer fireworks displays in Marseilles, Cannes, Chambéry, Avignon and La Baule will not take place. In Nice, site of the Bastille Day truck massacre, a concert by Rihanna, the annual Nice Jazz Festival and the European road cycling championships have been cancelled.

In Paris, half a dozen summer events have been abandoned including the traditional pedestrianization of the Champs-Elysées.

The most prominent cultural event to be called off is the Braderie de Lille. This gigantic flea-market dating back to the 12th century takes place during the first weekend of September and attracts between two and three million visitors each year to its four square miles of stalls. On August 5, the Mayor of Lille, Martine Aubry, announced that she was cancelling the event for security reasons.

For local businesses, these cancellations are an economic catastrophe that will cost them tens of millions of dollars.

Since the Charlie Hebdo attacks of January 2015, Islamic radicalism has succeeded in bringing France to its knees. The situation the country finds itself now in will continue to deteriorate until such time as the French people vote in a government prepared to take the tough measures needed to stamp out not only their external enemy, but the enemy within.

A separate swimming event where it was advertised that burkinis were allowed has raised the ire of the torchbearers of secularism in France.


Leslie Shaw is an Associate Professor at the Paris campus of ESCP Europe Business School and President of FIRM (Forum on Islamic Radicalism and Management).

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Leslie Shaw

Leslie Shaw is an associate professor at the Paris campus of ESCP Europe Business School and president of FIRM (Forum on Islamic Radicalism and Management).