Prospect

France's high court clears up burkini's legality; mainstream media still muddy the waters

France's high court clears up burkini's legality; mainstream media still muddy the waters

In France's so-called burkini wars, hypocrisy seems to be one of the few things that mainstream media have teased out well. The latest salvo came from the nation's high court today, striking down a town's law against the modest swimwear for Muslims.

Coverage has been fuzzier or silent on other things, though -- like what the laws say, what the underlying concepts mean, religious views on the matter, even the definition of a burkini.

The Washington Post aptly compares the burkini flap with that against the burqa, banned in France since 2010:

The argument behind both was—and remains—that Muslim modesty somehow impedes the rights of women in the historic French Republic of liberty, equality, and fraternity.
This is why, for instance, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls expressed his opposition to the bathing suit in nothing less than the language of human rights: the burkini, he said, was a means of “enslavement.” By the logic of Valls and others, it is the duty of the French state to emancipate Muslim women from the clutches of their religion but also from themselves.

Last week, the New York Times quoted Marwan Muhammad, executive director of France's Center Against Islamophobia, that there is no legal definition of a burkini. But then the newspaper skirted the obvious follow-up question: "Well, is there a religious definition of a burkini? Have any Islamic scholars ruled on this?"  

Tmatt last week quoted former human rights lawyer Amanda Taub for noting the "obviousness of the contradiction – imposing rules on what women can wear on the grounds that it’s wrong for women to have to obey rules about what women can wear." But she then inches out too far on a limb:

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