France’s burkini ban a symp­tom of deep dis­con­tent

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Rachel Mars­den Rachel Mars­den (www.rachel­mars­den.com) is a colum­nist, po­lit­i­cal strate­gist and for­mer Fox News host based in Paris.

The rest of the world should be pay­ing close at­ten­tion to France’s burkini con­tro­versy be­cause this is the kind of fi­asco that en­sues when you blast past ev­ery exit ramp en route to to­tal so­cial dis­in­te­gra­tion.

Over the sum­mer, some French com­munes banned the burkini — a re­cently in­vented full-body cov­er­ing worn by women as a sort of aquatic burqa — from pub­lic beaches and pools. The French Coun­cil of State, the coun­try’s high­est ad­min­is­tra­tive court, over­turned the bans last month, rul­ing that such de­crees should not be driven by emo­tions, which have been run­ning high ever since a Tu­nisian-born ter­ror­ist used a truck to mow down a crowd of rev­el­ers on Bastille Day (which marks the on­set of the French sum­mer sea­son), killing 86 peo­ple and in­jur­ing hun­dreds more. Still, some towns in the re­gions of France most heav­ily pop­u­lated by im­mi­grants such as Nice — where the truck at­tack took place — an­nounced their in­tent to ig­nore the de­ci­sion and main­tain the burkini ban.

How cul­tur­ally in­se­cure do you have to be to get so riled up about cloth­ing? It’s not even a real burqa. This is what it has come to, folks: pho­tos blasted around the world of French po­lice of­fi­cers hov­er­ing over a burkini-clad woman ly­ing on a French beach — all be­cause au­thor­i­ties were too cow­ardly to en­act poli­cies that would serve as a foun­da­tion for cul­tural and so­ci­etal co­he­sion.

While spend­ing time in Van­cou­ver, Canada, over the sum­mer, I no­ticed some young girls in burki­nis at the lo­cal swim­ming pool. The burkini is not an is­sue of de­bate in Canada — at least not yet. My first thought was that these girls are ex­cluded a pri­ori from par­tic­i­pat­ing in the lo­cal swim club (an ex­pe­ri­ence that taught me val­ues such as self-mo­ti­va­tion, goal-set­ting, team­work and lead­er­ship). In this sense, yes, a burkini is in­her­ently an af­front to free­dom. These girls couldn’t ef­fec­tively train or race in a burkini.

But the French don’t have the lux­ury of fret­ting about a girl’s free­dom to join a swim team. They’re too busy wor­ry­ing about the dis­in­te­gra­tion of the French Repub­lic.

For­mer French Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Sarkozy, who will run for an­other pres­i­den­tial term in the May 2017 elec­tion, told the French news­pa­per Le Fi­garo, “Wear­ing a burkini is a po­lit­i­cal, mil­i­tant act, a provo­ca­tion.” He added that “do­ing noth­ing is to sug­gest that France ap­pears weak, and it would en­act a fur­ther de­cline of the Repub­lic.”

No, what’s weak are the poli­cies that have led the coun­try to this point, start­ing with col­lu­sion between the right and the left in France — vir­tu­ally all par­ties ex­cept for Ma­rine Le Pen’s “far-right” Na­tional Front party — to rad­i­cally ori­ent im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies in fa­vor of the cul­tur­ally and so­cially in­com­pat­i­ble. What’s weak is French Prime Min­is­ter Manuel Valls pro­claim­ing in the wake of the Nice at­tack that “ter­ror­ism will be a part of ev­ery­day life for a long time,” as if French cit­i­zens should re­sign them­selves to it as a side ef­fect of glob­al­ism.

French so­ci­ety is be­ing torn apart by failed poli­cies. French agri­cul­tural work­ers and truck driv­ers block­aded the main route into Calais this week to protest the French gov­ern­ment’s fail­ure to clear out a huge mi­grant area known as the “Jun­gle,” de­spite re­peat­edly promis­ing to do so. Wealthy res­i­dents in Paris’ 16th ar­rondisse­ment are com­plain­ing about mi­grant hous­ing fa­cil­i­ties be­ing erected across the street from them.

Western so­ci­eties are ex­pected to have flex­i­ble so­ci­etal val­ues and cul­tural iden­ti­ties, to their own detri­ment. Why doesn’t any­one lobby in fa­vor of “diver­si­fy­ing” Ja­pan or China in the same way?

The burkini de­bate is a warn­ing to other Western democ­ra­cies so fo­cused on fos­ter­ing di­ver­sity that it could end up cre­at­ing divi­sion and chaos. I’m think­ing specif­i­cally of Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau, who re­mains in­tent on re­set­tling 30,000 Syr­ian refugees, even though many of these refugees are strug­gling to in­te­grate and are over­tax­ing the coun­try’s re­lated ser­vices. I’m also think­ing of U.S. pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Hil­lary Clin­ton, who has called for Amer­ica to take in up to 65,000 Syr­ian refugees (in ad­di­tion to the 10,000 who have al­ready ar­rived).

It may be only a mat­ter of time be­fore Canada and Amer­ica have their own ver­sions of the burkini de­bate.

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