In the days of Berlusconi, people over here happened to feel ashamed of being Italian. These days, one may just as well feel ashamed of being European.
Cannes, August 2016. The mayor of a world-renowned municipality comes up with the brilliant idea of forbidding women from bathing without getting half-naked, with an ordinance of such contorted wording that it almost betrays shame for its own content.
“Forbidden burkini”, was the interpretation of the media the world over, forgetting that the custom of bathing in full dress is widespread in plenty of non-Muslim countries, such as India, where saris at sea are a fairly common sight.
The ordinance is in open conflict with all the principles of tolerance and freedom on which the liberal constitutions of Western countries have been founded a few centuries ago: to forbid a behaviour pertaining to the strictly personal sphere of dress, when such behaviour cannot in any way harm others, is simply not compatible with democratic values. It is mere obscurantism.
Furthermore, it is a macroscopic and highly dangerous exhibition of idiocy: it seems expressly designed to anger any believer in the Muslim faith, however reasonable and moderate, and have him or her lean in the direction of extremism. A single act of this kind may suffice to thwart years of patient work to counteract extremism. Who knows how many young and not-so-balanced minds may have burnt with the kind of indignation that is the best feeding ground for violence and hate. If France wants to “prevent” terrorism, then the first measure should be to prevent this kind of idiocies.
The idea was just the work of a single unenlightened first citizen. It would have been easy to defuse it smoothly. Not so in France: it was promptly imitated by other obtuse mayors; and what did the prime minister Manuel Valls have to say? Three memorable and highly dangerous stupidities.
First: the burkini is “incompatible with the values of France and of the Republic”. Exclamation mark. France is the country of Voltaire, the one who said he may not agree with what you says, but was ready to give his life to defend your right to say it. Let someone show me that the right to dress as we please has nothing to do with the right to speak as we please: they both have but one limit, not to harm others. It is rather Manuel Valls who harms others when he literally states, in the same interview, that “all those who uphold views that have nothing to do with our values must be prosecuted”. Exactly the opposite of Voltaire. What is incompatible with republican values?
Second stupidity: the burkini must be forbidden because it is “the expression of a political project”. Valls does not suspect that a woman who wishes to adhere to the archaic traditions of her forefathers might not be inspired by any “political project”, but only by a religious idea that as such, even though poor Valls is incapable of understanding it, not only “deserves”, but exacts respect. With this simple sentence, Valls ascribes to any slightly conservative Muslim lady the fanatical extremism of Daesh. With what consequences, we can imagine.
Third stupidity: this political project is “based on the subjection of women”. Westerners of the kind of Mr. Valls have indeed a base conception of Muslim women, therefore of women in general, since Muslim females number in the hundreds of millions. For these gentlemen, if one of them wishes to cover her body more than what pleases Mr. Valls, this cannot be the result of her free religious and moral choice, it can only be the effect of her subjection to the maleficent males who want to have her enslaved. And why on earth should millions of women around the world, in the midst of the twenty-first century, undergo such a torment even more than thirty years ago? Why, it can only be because they are women, therefore inclined to subjection. Mr. Valls knows much better than them what is good for them, for their daughters and for all humankind. Therefore let them obey Mr. Valls and shut up. Let them get (half) naked or stay home.
Well if this is liberty, let me be ashamed of being free. Or rather, you know what? Next time I go swimming I might wear a good burkini.