Burkinis and the Jewish Question

“Last week, while vacationing with my wife in Alsace, I picked up the French newspaper Le Figaro and learned about a controversy with significant implications for the future of Muslims in France—one which raises profound issues for religious minorities everywhere, including American Jews.

A Muslim women’s association had rented a water park near Marseilles for a day of fun open only to women who agreed to wear ‘burkinis’ and ‘jilbebs’ that covered their bodies head to toe in accordance with Islamic law. A public official in the area promptly denounced the move as a separatist provocation, objectionable on feminist grounds as well, while another called it an open rejection of ‘our republican model’ of society. Defending the gathering, yet another public official pointed out that it involved rental of a private venue and was therefore an entirely private matter in which the state had no business interfering. It did not remain private for long: a few days later, the mayor of Cannes — a few miles from the recent terror attack in Nice — prohibited the wearing of burkinis on the city’s public beaches, citing a threat to public security. The full-body swimsuits, he said, were ‘a symbol of extremism’ that might provoke violence.

I come down firmly on both sides of this argument.”

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