A lot of the news this week has been about the burkini, and the various controversies in France, where local mayors have banned the burkini, and courts have overturned the ban. France, which vigorously defends the secular state, has a long history of banning the burka, and other religious clothing. I find there is an interesting clash of interests here.
More liberal folk, who are usually proudly feminist, and who defend the right of all not to be oppressed by wicked religions, are outraged by the ban and defending the right of women to wear burkas (burkæ?) and other religious clothing.
More conservative folk, who are usually busy telling women what to wear, and what to do, and forbidding them from doing things men do, welcome the ban as an important victory in the war against Islam.
I myself feel some of these conflicts. I feel uncomfortable with the burka as a sign of men oppressing women. I feel equally uncomfortable with the burka being outlawed. What to do? I offer two view from Muslims:
Nadiya Hussein is the Muslim who outraged the Daily Mail by winning the Great British Bake Off in 2015. She is a confident, funny women, who is an imaginative baker, and who, in my view, represents much that can be good about Britain, which, of course, is now under threat from the Brexit gang. She has been given a series The Chronicles of Nadiya which shows her travelling to Bangladesh and cooking her way through the country. In the first episode, she explained why she wears the hijab. Reading that, I would find it hard to ban the burka.
Sadiq Khan is the Muslim who outraged the Conservative Party by winning the London Mayoral Election in 2016. He is a confident politician, a good communicator, and, in the days since coming to power, and the calamity of Brexit, has boldly proclaimed that "London is Open". He has made it clear that no-one should tell women what they can and cannot wear.
Khan has it right. For too long, men have dictated what is, and is not acceptable wear for women. They have either encouraged women to dress as sex toys for the titillation of men, or covered them up, as dangerous beings capable of stirring up improper desires. Let women dress as they wish!
There is one last postscript to this. Quite a few people on Farcebook and Twitter were sharing articles, often spoof, such as this, suggesting that fat men should be banned from beaches too. It is an unwelcome reminder, that, while women will find their defenders, everyone thinks it is fine to insult overweight people. I think, like women, we should not tell fat people what to wear, either.