Alan Duff: It is no religious cover-up

Beachwear is a personal preference. Photo / AP
Beachwear is a personal preference. Photo / AP

Burkinis be damned is the one-sided debate raging here in France. Comeback king Nicolas Sarkozy has promised voters he'll ban the burkini. Right-wing leader, Marine Le Pen, promises the same. Muslim women tell of suffering humiliation, insults, being spat on by fellow French citizens who they're blaming when they should blame Muslim terrorists' acts in France.

I heard an opinion that a burkini represents male ownership of a female body and is therefore an offence against Western cultural values. The notion that a woman's body is beheld only by her "owner" husband is an affront to our sensibilities. It's the attitude of a jealous, insecure teenage male.

But so are television videos of sexist, anti-female black American rappers offensive. Where a woman is not a woman - she's some guy's "b****". Give her some bling, a wad of cash, and she's yours, n****. She doesn't have a mind and her only voice is in praise of Mister Loverboy. Gross.

How women are treated in Saudi Arabia is bad. If anyone has to change it's the Saudis. My understanding of present-day interpretation of Islam suggests women will never get equality. Our attitudes were in part set free by our democracy allowing open debate. Invention of the contraceptive pill threw the chains off women. In recent years social media has given us all the maps to freedom wherever it lies.

Saudi Arabia, indeed the entire Middle East, has been left behind; their thinking stultified, stuck back in the past of 1400 years ago. Any ideas on a new social order are brutally suppressed. But my opinion on the burkini is now under question.

Not because I think it's no-one else's business what a woman wears on the beach. We all affect one another in our public interactions and in a country like France - that had a revolution against an oppressive monarchy, nobility and clergy to rid themselves of economic, material and spiritual oppression - they feel just as strongly about religion having no influence as the Muslims do in religion defining their lives and outlook.

But tolerance and acceptance are part of what came out of that 1789 Revolution. Council and government authorities should remember Newton's law of every action having an opposite, equal reaction. Just for practical purposes, they should reconsider this stance.

The West, though, has every right to ask if our cultural ways would go unnoticed, let alone without punishment, in Muslim countries. My two youngest daughters in bikinis on a beach in Yemen? This non-believer writing the reasons he does not believe God exists? My wife arguing the opposite of my every strong opinion on anything and everything, and I have to cop it? I don't think that would be the case in Muslim society.

In countries all over the West, Muslims build more mosques. Can we build Christian churches in a Muslim country without it being set alight, along with the builders and worshippers? We are allowed to ridicule and satirise our political leaders without fear of consequences - do Muslims have that freedom in any of their countries? Can they debate, discuss anything they wish in public? Not a chance.

This column would not exist in a Muslim country. The only given views are those of the dictatorial state and Islamic clergy. Of course, there is no such thing as a free press. So before Muslims howl outrage at attitudes to them in the West, they should ask why few refugees seek a new life in other Muslim countries and instead head West.

Muslim citizens of Western countries should demand of their own that they show the same tolerance and understanding to non-Muslims as mostly shown them.

But it is definitely their right to wear what they wish on a beach.

- NZ Herald

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Alan Duff

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