The Girl in the Burkini

Last week, sex, politics, and religion leaped out of an eye-catching poster of a teenager, Ari-Sophie Dewinter, who wears a Burka that covers her head, neck, and shoulders but little else of her beautiful body except for superimposed slogans, Freedom or Sharia? across her breasts, and You Choose across her bikini. And, of course, under her predominantly nude body was a deeper message protesting the suppression of women under Sharia Law.

Although Burkas are not strictly mandated by Sharia Law and voluntarily worn by many Muslim women throughout the world, they are effectively mandatory in several theocratic societies. Many Muslim women object to the resistance they encounter against burkas in the non-Muslim world. Clashes on this issue are increasing in size and severity in the non-Muslim world.

Muslims (and others) argue that all societies have dress codes. Even in the United States where you can wear anything you choose privately, there are dress codes for dining, business, and just about any other public activity or event.

My views about the clash of cultures can be found in a blog I wrote almost a year ago titled The Terrorist and the Infidel (April 17, 2011), but the present blog reflects my reaction to an ominously growing trend.

You may have heard about the Rye Playland incident in Westchester, New York toward the end of summer in 2011. The scuffle between police and a group of American Muslim women was occasioned by their being barred from amusement rides that prohibit headgear and scarves. The women refused to remove their scarves (hijabs). An altercation erupted. There were injuries. Security intervened.

As usual, pros and cons flooded the media, and blogs lit up throughout the country. Discounting the remarks of uneducated bloggers and differing descriptions of the physical brawl itself, the fundamental issue was absolutely clear: Was this an incident of Xenophobia or Safety?

In either case, the conflict underscores a deeper issue. The United States maintains a separation of church and state. The corollary to that principle is religious freedom. Although many people, including legislators and judges, are confused about the correlation of those binary principles, they are generally reflected in the laws and practices of our country. And, of course, religious freedom does not include religious practices such as ritual infanticide. It also does not provide a right to break the law.

Yet, there are fanatics who posit that Muslims should be permitted to practice Sharia Law with its separate courts and judges outside the jurisdiction of national laws. The United States is no exception. Fanatics do not recognize national borders. I know that Xenophobia has reared its ugly head in much of the non-Muslim world. But so has attempted encroachment on the laws of non-Muslim nations. I hope that Americans will exercise the same fervor against legal Islamization as they do to check other religions.

Millions of people question the wisdom behind the provocative poster. Millions of others applaud it. Whatever our differences about the poster, I hope my fellow Americans, including Muslim Americans, wisely sort the difference between Xenophobia and American Jurisprudence.

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