Beach Burqas: A Partial Retraction (sort of)

20 Aug

Welcome back my friends. I’m sorry I’ve been remiss in updating the last few days; between the unbearable heat here in Toronto and several personal obligations that have taken me off the grounds of the Compound, I’ve been a busy – and tired – guy. But now I’m back and I ‘ve got something I need to talk to all of you about.

big news

You may remember about a month back I wrote an article on French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s plan to ban the wearing of burqas in his country – an article for which I received a great deal of hate mail. Like, a great deal. I got called a racist, a bigot and – confusingly – anti-feminist, all because I stated my opinion that burqas are a tool of female oppression (as opposed to a religious observance). I’m not going to rescind on that opinion now, but I will admit I may have been somewhat remiss in my explanation of that opinion.

balancing act

You see, Sarkozy’s decision is only partially sound – while I agree with him that burqa-wearing is an archaic and seditious practice, outright banning any activity in the interest of preserving freedom is kind of hypocritical. If Sarkozy tells the women of France they’re not allowed to wear burquas, he’s essentially saying “I know what’s good for you, so you’re going to accept your freedom if I have to ram it down your throat with a toilet plunger” and that’s not what he wants to do. The trick is to walk down the middle of the road and give people the choice to do what they want, wear what they want and observe what they want within reason.


In accordance with that statement, you might be surprised at what I’ve got to say about an issue that came across my desk a couple of days ago.

According to an article in the Telegraph, motions are being put in place at swimming pools across the United Kingdom to institute Muslim-centric swim sessions, during which strict dress codes in accordance with Islamic law are to be observed by everyone at the pool. In plain English this means for a set period of time each day, the rules of the swimming pool are changed to accommodate the laws of modesty set out by the Muslim faith: shirts and long shorts for men and the aptly-named “burqini” for women.


A lot of people are up in arms about this issue, and on one hand I can see why. It’s what I just finished saying: if people want to dress in accordance with their beliefs, more power to them. But if my beliefs don’t correspond with yours, I don’t see why I should have to change anything about my lifestyle – even something as banal as my wardrobe – to accommodate yours. The only way to avoid that argument, I imagine, would be to make the Muslim swim-times exclusive to Muslim men and women (itself a logistically difficult feat given men and women aren’t allowed to swim together), but if you’re going to do that, why aren’t you granting the same consideration to Jews, Buddhists, orthodox Christians, or anybody else who might have specific requirements for their enjoyment of your facilities?

religious diversityTo make matters worse, we’re talking about municipal pools here – I’m not sure how it works in England, but here in Canada municipal pools are run by the city, which suggests an even greater complication. If you’re Joe Q. PoolManager and you’re running Joe Q’s Privately-Owned Pool, you can do pretty much what you like, but if you’re Bill C. Municipality running a pool in accordance with city law, you’re treading on very thin ice if you start making these sorts of concessions for some groups but not others. Where does it stop? The next logical step here would be to start dividing pool time up based on sexual orientation, right? Don’t want to make the straight folks nervous if you’ve got gay dudes in the pool at the same time, do you? It’s a dangerously slippery slope when you start drawing lines in the sand – or in this case, lines in the water.

line in sand

All of that said, however, there’s another side to this debate. There’s a commonly-held argument when it comes to censorship on television that if you don’t like what you’re seeing, you always have the option of changing the channel. Same thing works here for all those people pissed off about the Muslim swim-time thing – if you don’t want to meet the requirements of those specifically cordoned-off times of day in which pool authorities are giving a little to the Muslim community, swim some other time. Nobody’s forcing you to go to the local watering hole during that time of day – and it’s not as though the pools are enforcing this rule all day, every day. Surely you can go get an ice cream or head over to the park or something for a while, until such time as the rules revert to their original parameters. Why make a mountain out of a mole hill?

mountain out of molehillI think it’s a question of what I just said – this issue has the capacity to be a slippery slope. I’ve already made my position clear regarding what I think about burqas and their associated implications, but I’m trying really hard to walk the middle road here. On some level I think it’s fair to give the Muslim community some rope here – for the last eight years even the most moderate practitioners of that faith have been unfairly castigated thanks largely to the negative media spin associated with 9/11, and it’s nice to see governments like that of the United Kingdom trying to give back to that community, especially considering the backlash against Muslims has at times been particularly pronounced in that part of the world. But it does make me wonder whether or not this whole swimming thing is going to make things worse – kind of like how you’d never report a bully in grade school for fear of teacher intervention making the after-school beating that much worse. Is this move going to be positive for the Muslim community, or is it only going to deepen resentment towards Muslims in the community at large?

angry woman

My final word on the subject is that, if this is handled delicately and if the government makes inroads towards supporting these sorts of initiatives for anybody who asks for them, it’s probably a good thing, and the nay-sayers are probably just looking to pick a fight. But as with all things religious or cultural, there’s the capacity for this to get very sour, very fast. I hope it doesn’t, but if wishes were horses we’d all be riding.

horse raceWhat are your thoughts? Do you think these sorts of concessions should be mandated, left up to individual municipalities, or dropped altogether? I sincerely hope I haven’t stepped on the wrong shoes this time, but if I have, feel free to give it to me with both barrels. I’ll respond to any and all comments on this issue, because I think it’s worth talking about.

Something funny will come later, I promise. I’m not going to get all heavy-handed on you. And if this wasn’t controversial enough for my more polarized readers, go check out what Jeff O. has to say about the subject at Keep Your Coins, I Want Change.

And thanks for sticking around. You fans are awesome.


7 Responses to “Beach Burqas: A Partial Retraction (sort of)”

  1. Shayla August 20, 2009 at 1:30 PM #

    With these potentially explosive cultural controversies, I tend to draw a thick line between what I might not agree with but shut my mouth about, and what outrageous me to the point that I voluntarily express an opinion. This doesn’t cross the line for me, although personally I think the burqini is a little much (literally).

    Things like this model being caned for drinking beer (, on the other hand, I’ll openly say are bullshit.

  2. Shayla August 20, 2009 at 1:31 PM #

    *outrages, not outrageous

  3. skyler hype August 20, 2009 at 4:44 PM #

    sometimes i think that in a predominantly Muslim township if they feel the need they would be able to mandate a quasi-decency ordinance for the public places and institutions that they pay for. But that can be a slippery slope. Are we going to let regions legislate against enshrined freedoms?

    It has two sides for sure

  4. Rob September 25, 2009 at 8:36 AM #

    I think the government should open the issue up to a public vote let the people decide. If folks don’t like the outcome they can go join, set up, or help organize private swimming facilities within their communities. I agree with you that if we make concessions to one group, then we our bound by principle to do the same for all other groups, not just religious. Let’s say someone is fit and appalled by overweight people floundering around in bathing attire. On the reverse, I am obese and am offended by looks and comments I receive from others. Will the state break down the swim ordnance even further, fat, thin, black, white, or any other ethnic group. We who live in free societies pride ourselves on not only or freedom but our diversity and ability to accept others. If we start down mandated separations then, racism and prejudice is indirectly encouraged. Prejudice breeds hate, mistrust and further misunderstanding. The combination of these things leads to further discontent and possible violence. Just look back at the race riots of the 1960s in the U.S. for an example of how ugly segregation and prejudice can be.

  5. Rob Ermatinger January 28, 2010 at 4:54 AM #

    Happy to have checked out this site really found it useful and will return to explore when I am not so busy.


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