In the past week, French beaches have taken steps to ban the burkini—a full-body swimsuit invented by an Australian Muslim woman who wanted to make it easier for her devout female coreligionists to bathe publicly. Supporters of the ban—including both right-wing politicians and the socialist prime minister Manuel Valls—claim that it is a wise response to the wave of terrorist attacks in their country. Nervana Mahmoud, who was not allowed by her family to swim in her native Egypt, disagrees, with reservations:
As a liberal woman, I have no problem with the burkini because I believe in freedom of choice, but as a Muslim woman, I find the burkini problematic for two reasons.
First, it symbolizes a perception that women who cover up within the Muslim world are superior to those who do not. . . . Second, many Islamists advocate total segregation [of the sexes], and are not content with the burkini. One might presume that once Muslim women agree to cover up fully, the [conservatives] will finally leave them alone. But the opposite is true. The more women give in and cover up, the higher [extremists] will raise the stakes. . . .
It may surprise many, but the harassment of women on public beaches, which is prevalent in Muslim countries, is almost negligible in Western countries, despite the revealing swimming costumes many women wear. Even in Egypt, the harassment of non-burkini- wearing women is much less [common] in upmarket beach resorts. . . .
The debate on the ban of the burkini in France is yet another example that the troubles of the Middle East do not remain in the Middle East.