Posted on August 30 2016
The extreme absurdity of seeing a group of strong powerful men in uniform, carrying guns forcing a woman to undress simply because of something she is wearing makes me weep for the state of humanity. Equally absurd is the idea that other men with different political and religious values may be forcing the woman, or similar women, to cover themselves up in such a way. What a woman should or should not wear, what she should or should not do, who has the right to determine how she conducts her life or what she believes is a fundamental human right. Allowing the government, religions or even family to dictate such things to her takes away her humanity, reduces her to an object to be controlled by others. The idea that such a simple form self-expression could become such a flash point is almost beyond belief. The fact that it is happening in one of the great liberal democracies of the world is truly scary.
The logical self-contradiction is that in the name of defending their open cultures the French and others are moving to deny the very openness they parade in front of others. Banning the “Burkini” in France is just an example of the emerging intolerance around the world for people that see the world differently than the accepted “way”. “Burkinis” are, essentially, full-body swimsuits. They are very similar to what people wear to surf, to protect from the sun and wind. Others may wear full-body suits to cover themselves from the sun, like the Coolibar line popular across the United States and other parts of the world. Cancer victims often take similar steps during their treatment. No one in France would dream of denying the use of a partial wet suit or sun screen on the beach, this is pure and simple religious discrimination at its worst.
To be clear, I am not defending the situation where a woman is forced to wear such garb. I used to have to wear the hijab growing up in Iran and I can assure you that it’s not comfortable. So if a Muslim woman chooses to cover herself, then I fully endorse her choice. On the other hand, if the government, her family or an Imam insists and makes it a requirement I completely reject the notion that they have any such right.
We live in a world that is constantly changing and in many unfortunate circumstances resistance to this change results in unrelenting violence, savage brutality and wonton destruction. The world will only survive the test of advancing technology, global mobility, and power if humanity can learn to respect the fundamental rights of others, to respect everyone’s right to their personal believes, the rights to self-expression and basic freedoms. We have two endpoints, a spiraling degeneration into autocracy or an evolved multicultural tolerance. Any other place will continue to suffer upheavals of ever more extreme violence.
Burkinis, hijabs and the Muslim traditions are seen as threats because of a small minority of Muslims that are expressing violence in every direction, including their biggest victims, the people of their own religious history. The focus is only on the bad and people often forget that there are many millions of Muslims that are so gracefully doing amazing things in this world. Instead of understating that as humans we can peacefully coexist, we are very quick to judge, condemn and blame. Often this is out of blind fear and ignorance. Wearing a Burkini is a choice and people believe just because someone choses to wear it, they are automatically unsafe, or in this case, disloyal or disrespectful to France. You have a difficult choice to make in a democracy, simply, are you free or not? Are people equal and does liberty exist?
I grew up in Iran after the 1979 Revolution, where strict regulations were imposed on a woman’s dress code. By law women had to cover everything but their face and hands. I love my culture, traditions and I am proud to be a Muslim. Although I do not personally choose to cover myself I have so much respect for those who do. I was arrested when I was 16 years old for simply wanting to be fashionable and for seeking freedom. I was sent to jail for 5 nights and received 40 lashes as the punishment for a crime of wearing a mini skirt in a privacy of a home at a coed birthday party. Today I am a swimsuit designer, not because I believe everyone should wear bikinis, but because I love Fashion and I believe that fashion is a form of freedom and women all around the world should be able to wear what they desire without the fear of judgment, punishment or coercion.
When I moved from a country that forced me to cover myself to a place where I had the freedom to wear what I desired, the meaning of freedom of choice really stood out to me. When I woke up in the morning and considered what I wanted to wear, I realized that I didn’t have to think about rules, restrictions, judgments, or punishment. I wasn’t forced in to pretending to be more religious than I really was, and I could finally use my clothes to create an identity for myself the way I wanted to. I saw a future in which I would be judged less for my appearance and valued more for who I was as a person. Regardless of whether I chose to cover myself or wear a bikini I was still regarded as an individual and judged for who I was as a person. Freedom is not about the amount of clothing you put on or take off, but about having the choice to do so. I saw women who wore hijabs, covered from head to toe, walking on the same beaches as women in their European-cut bikinis. Their freedom of choice empowered me. I found a new respect for women who covered by their choice for “their” religious beliefs. I also respected those who fearlessly wore bikinis. There is something very powerful about standing up for your beliefs, even if you’re in the minority.
We are all making choices all the time, even when we chose not to choose we have still made a choice. It is our choices that determine our experiences. We have been given all the power to create our experiences through our choices, but if outside forces are responsible for our choices we give away all the power we have. We are all different and we celebrate our individuality by being able to adorn ourselves in a way that makes us feel powerful, to embody that freedom which we choose to share with the world. When these simple freedoms are taken away from women or anyone, it takes away their independence and humanity. No one, regardless of their nationality, religion and race, should be told what they should wear and where. Women must be able to make their own choice about what they wear, whether that be a bikini or Burkini, it makes no difference. Clothes are not going to change the world, the women who wear them will.