France has been seized by a silly hysteria over the burkini, prompting me to wonder when Europeans will get serious about their Islamist challenge.
For starters, what is a burkini? The word (sometimes spelled burqini) combines the names of two opposite articles of female clothing: the burqa (an Islamic tent-like, full-body covering) and the bikini. Also known as a halal swimsuit, it modestly covers all but the face, hands and feet, consisting of a top and a bottom. It resembles a wetsuit with a head covering.
Aheda Zanetti of Ahiida Pty Ltd in Australia claims to have coined the portmanteau in 2003, calling it “smaller than a burka” while “two piece like a bikini.” The curious and sensational cross of two radically dissimilar articles of clothing along with the need it fit for active, pious Muslim women, the burkini (as Ahiida notes) was “the subject of an immediate rush of interest and demand.” Additionally, some women (like British cooking celebrity Nigella Lawson) wear it to avoid a tan, while pious Jews have adopted a variant garment.
In 2009, a public swimming pool in Emerainville, France, excluded a burkini-wearing woman, on the grounds that she violated pool rules by wearing street clothes. But burkinis only erupted into a national political issue on Aug. 12 when the mayor of Cannes, a resort town on the French Riviera, banned burkinis (without legally defining what exactly they are) on the Cannes beaches because it represents Islamism. A court then confirmed his ban and the prime minister of France, Manuel Valls, further endorsed it (on the grounds that the burkini is a religious expression that has no place on the beach) as did François Fillon, a likely candidate for president next year. Thus encouraged, other French municipalities followed suit, including the city of Nice, plus another nine towns in the Alpes-Maritimes Department as well as five towns in the Var Department.