Jacob Rees-Mogg put the matter in a balanced – if somewhat orotund – way: he did not consider that a burka added to any woman’s “pulchritude”. Yet it was not the state’s job to ordain what people could wear. Quite so: a garment may indeed be called unattractive without its being against the law.
The all-covering Islamic garment is not popular with the general public in this country and is not considered “pulchritudinous”. Boris Johnson has got into much trouble in making that point, with characteristic hyperbole.
Both women and men often describe the burka as oppressive to women and a symbol of a backward patriarchy. Yet some Islamic women freely choose to wear it, for a number of reasons: faith, family tradition or even perhaps an element of comfort. I can appreciate the convenience in being able to see without being seen.
But perhaps the vogue for the burka and the niqab (a face veil that leaves the eyes visible) might also be linked to a reaction against certain Western styles of dress, or rather undress. Perhaps some in the Islamic tradition – both women and men – find the immodesty of many Western fashions unbecoming. Perhaps they think it is unattractive to see a woman (and, in summer, some men) stripped down to the bare essentials.
That famous photograph, taken a couple of years ago on the Cote d’Azur, prompts such a question: Islamic women who had chosen to wear a “burkini” (a modestly designed swimming costume) were being arraigned by two French policemen for displeasing the law, while other swimmers and beach loungers went bare-breasted. If Islamic women prefer to be modestly attired when swimming, why shouldn’t they do so?
Those of us who have less than “beach ready” figures might well embrace a more enveloping form of swimwear, were it to be available.
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