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Everyday Ethics

377765194_a3eae1e4cb.jpgThe burqini, a full body swimsuit, may have been created to allow Muslim women the freedom to partake in the joy of cavorting in the water alongside everyone else, but in France it’s causing another flare-up in controversy over Muslim garb.

A convert to Islam, identified as Carole, launched a complaint of religious discrimination after she was not allowed to wear her burqini in a local pool in the Emerainville region of France. Daniel Guillaume, an official in charge of swimming pools in the region, cited hygiene in refusing to let her swim in the suit – baggy swim trunks are also banned, and only skin tight suits are allowed.

First, let me just say that as far as ethics go, I find nothing unethical about banning everyone from wearing loose-fitting swim apparel. I do hope that burqini-designers can come up with a new version to circumvent these rules, but the rule itself (and asking people to follow it) isn’t unethical. It’s strange, but not unethical. Unless (and this is a big conspiracy-theory-unless) the rule just happened to be put in place around the time the first burqini was introduced. Just sayin’.

Sidenote: I’d like to mention to Guillaume’s statement ( “These clothes are used in public, so they can contain molecules, viruses, et cetera, which will go in the water and could be transmitted to other bathers”) is asinine, since this is a specially-made swimsuit, not meant as streetwear.

What I do find unethical, ridiculous and hypocritical are the holier-than-thou statements made by President Sarkozy and other officials in backing a proposal banning burqas and other Muslim attire. According to the AP, Sarkozy believes such dress makes women prisoners.  Emerainville Mayor Alan Kelyor apparently doesn’t  understand why the woman would want to swim in head-to-toe clothes.

Kelyor told the AP:

“We are going back in civilization,” he said by telephone. Women have fought for decades for equal rights with men, he said. “Now we are putting them back in burqas and veils.”

You know what? Women also fought for the right to make their own decisions. And I firmly believe the decision to cover up for religious reasons should be one’s own. To ban the right to make that decision is intolerant and close-minded.

I hear people talk about the lack of women’s rights in the Islamic world. Well, there’s a lot to be said in that regard, and a lot to be changed – hopefully a change that will be led by the women of Islam. But we need to be cognizant of the limitations of that argument, especially when it comes to making judgments about the freedom of choices and religion. Randy Cohen made a great argument for the limits of tolerance in his blog a few months ago, which also speaks to the subject of France’s intolerance of the Muslim dress code.

The ethics of tolerance stops at physical harm, not at deciding how much skin to show. What hypocrites we are if we condemn a religious group for “making” women wear certain clothing, and simultaneously make them take it off!

Disagree? Agree? Let me know…

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