GP Taylor: Fearful French have every right to ban burkini

BEING ginger and born and bred in Yorkshire, I have a love hate relationship with that golden orb known as the sun.

Should there be a Burkini ban?

Unlike many people, I do not go brown. I simply burn and then peel. It is no wonder then that whilst on holiday in Cannes a 
few days ago, I felt the need to cover myself against the midday sun.

Hiding under an umbrella on C Beach, a place where they charge you 15 euros for a deckchair and another five for a towel, I would occasionally nip out for a swim dressed in long shorts, T-shirt, flat cap and dark glasses.

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My swimwear did catch the attention of the lifeguard who, when I walked past, just muttered the word “English?” under his breath. I suppose they are well used to Yorkshiremen getting dressed to go in the sea.

Sadly, I no longer have the figure for a pair of Speedos and quite frankly feel that if the French should ban anything from their beaches it should be overweight men wearing swimming briefs that get lost in the rolls of fat.

Before I set off on holiday, I 
had been told that security on French beaches had been raised and that the burkini had been banned. In all my years of going to Cannes, I have seen very few women in the sea wearing one. In the scorching heat of a hot afternoon I would suggest they could, in fact, be the item of choice for any woman who doesn’t want to end up with third degree burns. Even Nigella Lawson wore something similar on an Australian holiday.

Although I do not agree with 
a ban, I can, however, understand why the local authorities on the Côte d’Azur took the step to ban them from their beaches. What the Western media isn’t saying is that there is a great deal of fear and suspicion in the south of France in regards to the rise of militant Islam amongst the people who have migrated there. The burka and the burkini are both seen as being items of clothing that speak of a theology and culture that are in direct conflict with a secular country.

Only last week, the Cannes summer firework display was cancelled on two nights due to concerns regarding security. On the night it finally took place, I saw that troops filled the underground car park at the harbour in readiness while armed patrols by the military were commonplace.

Talking to locals in back-
street cafes it soon became clear that there was a belief that another atrocity, as happened in Nice, would again take place. I spoke with one old woman who had survived the Nazi occupation who said she felt that there was an enemy in their midst. She couldn’t understand why people had come to her country knowing it was a secular state and tried to impose their religious views on others.

To many French people, the enemy is radical Islam and a symbol of that is the burka. A recent survey showed that 64 per cent of the French population support a burka ban.

Even though 63 per cent of the French population claim allegiance to Christianity, the country has a very powerful secular ethos. The wearing of large Christian crosses, the Jewish kippah and hijabs were banned in French schools in 2004 and in 2007 the ban was increased to the wearing of Islamic face veils in public.

Dr Taj Hargey, of the Muslim Educational Centre in Oxford, is launching a nationwide campaign to impose a ban on 
the burka in public spaces in Britain. He said: “There is no religious requirement on Muslims to don the burka; the burka is not a feature of 
Pakistani culture, where 90 per cent of women do not wear it; there is no unqualified human right to wear whatever we want in public. In every developed society, personal freedoms have to take account of wider social mores.”

Some French politicians believe that Islamic body covering is more a political statement than a religious one. There is no mention of the burka in the Koran, only a command by Allah to dress modestly if you are a woman.

The burka and the hijab are historically cultural clothing of the pre-Islamic Middle East. I believe that in modern society they are worn as outward and visible sign of the faith of the wearer.

In this context, I can see nothing wrong in such an item being banned in a secular country. As the threat of Islamic fundamentalism increases, I suspect that more and more countries will follow suit.

Egypt’s Grand Imam, Sheikh Mohammad Tantawi, said the face veil was not compulsory in Islam, adding that every head of state had the right to accept or prohibit it.

In times like these I would quite like to live in a secular
state. Religion can be divisive
and lead to violence. No religion has the right to place demands on the society in which it is practised. Secular law should always be in authority over religious law.

GP Taylor is a writer and broadcaster and can be followed @GPTaylorauthor.