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Burkini controversy reveals bundle of acute problems in Europe — analysts

August 29, 19:18 UTC+3 MOSCOW
Experts comment on the decision of 30 French cities authorities' to ban burkini - a full-body swimsuit - from the local beaches
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MOSCOW, August 29. /TASS/. France’s heated debate over whether Muslim women have the right to use burkini - a full-body swimsuit - reflects the overall aggravation of the crisis the European multi-culturalism and tolerance policies have brought about. A way out is unlikely to be found as long as the expanding Muslim society remains in self-isolation, polled experts have told TASS after the authorities of 30 French cities banned burkini from the local beaches.

France’s highest administrative court - the State Council - last Friday suspended the ban on burkini, but the authorities in Nice, Frejus and a number of other cities promised they would continue to fine women who may wear this garment.

Politicians have already jumped at the opportunity to score points on this acute theme. Former president Nicholas Sarkozy, who earlier declared his intention to contest the post again, took the opportunity to declare in his very first election speech that "I refuse to let the burkini impose itself in French beaches and swimming pools . . . there must be a law to ban it throughout the Republic’s territory."

"You’re not in the Sahara, this is Paris!"

The head of European political studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ institute of the world economy and international relations IMEMO, Nadezhda Arbatova, believes that the seemingly minor issue of women’s swimsuit in reality is the focal point of an eon of problems.

"The flow of refugees from the Middle East and Northern Africa to the European Union, appalling terrorist attacks in Paris, Nice and Belgium and Muslims’ demonstrative commitment to their traditional clothes has made many Europeans stop to think why the migrants who keep flocking into Europe in search of a better life are reluctant to share the European values," Arbatova said.

Many Europeans, she believes, apparently follow this logic: "When we go to Saudi Arabia, for instance, we follow the local traditions. Naturally, we expect the migrants arriving in Europe will respect our customs, too."

"The burkini ban in a number of French cities is an eruption of phobias and complexes that have been piling up for years. The local authorities argue security considerations are the sole reason behind their decision: hiding a suicide bomber’s belt in the folds will be very easy. But this explanation is laughable, because the same is true of any loose piece of clothing," Arbatova said.

A member of the Moscow Carnegie Center, Aleksey Malashenko, points out that clothes are the most noticeable and annoying sign of ethnic identity for the Europeans. "Many Muslims put on the hijab and burkini and other items to challengingly demonstrate their distinction from the Europeans and the right to their own identity. This causes the Western society’s ever stronger rejection. Ever more people can be heard grumbling about the Muslim women: ‘You’re not in the Sahara, this is Paris’," he remarks.

The science doyen of the political sciences department at the Higher School of Economics, Mark Urnov, when asked why it was burkini that caused popular outcry, said: "Burkini was the last drop that caused the cup of European tolerance to overflow."

Sarkozy snatches initiative away from Marine Le Pen

The birth rate in the EU as low as it is (1.3 children per family) the ultra-right politicians in many countries, including France, have been warning of the forthcoming Islamization of society, Urnov says. In that sense Europe is at a crucial turning point in its history.

"Sarkozy, who has joined the presidential election campaign, has vowed to outlaw burkini once and for all. But by doing so he pushes the Muslims towards protest actions. Some have already taken place. This is a road to nowhere," Urnov believes.

Malashenko believes that "the more Europe talks about the problem of burkini, the more acute it will get. Politicians are in dismay. Some say: ‘We are a democracy!’ Others rise in burkini’s defense and play the card of nationalism."

Arbatova agrees that the theme of burkini is becoming a political weapon populist parties easily employ. "Sarkozy is snatching initiative away from the National Front’s leader Marine Le Pen. The issue of migrants may take center stage in France’s 2017 presidential election campaign."

Problems of self-isolated societies

Russia’s former ambassador to France, member of the Russian Academy of Sciences Yuri Ryzhov, recalls: "When I arrived in Paris in the 1990s, as any Soviet era person I had expected that the suburbs of the French capital were working class areas and constituted a sort of a ‘red belt.’ Very soon I was ready to see for myself that it was rather a ‘black-and-brown belt’," populated mostly by migrants from the Arab countries. The problem grew still worse in recent years."

"It is the self-centrism and self-isolation of Muslim communities that does not let migrants get integrated with the European society," says Arbatova.

"At a science conference an Iranian dissident told me that individually a Muslim can easily get integrated with a Western society, but the Muslim community will always remain a secluded world," Arbatova said.

She believes that the experience of Iceland may provide a solution. Migrants from Arab countries are settled sparsely among local residents. "Iceland does not create Muslim communities that reproduce the traditional Islamic values. In the other EU countries this is commonplace."

Collapse of multiculturalism

"Odd as it may seem, the multi-cultural project, based on the principle of tolerance to a different culture, has demonstrated to the whole world the utter incompatibility of traditional Muslim and modern European values," Arbatova said.

"Muslims find such Western civilization features as same-sex marriages, extreme manifestations of free love and other liberties as totally unacceptable. And the Europeans reject the traditional Muslim values, even clothes. This clash of cultural and civilizational principles was inevitable," Arbatova said.

"In the European Union no political forces that might competently solve this problem are in sight at the moment. Nor will there emerge any in the foreseeable future," Urnov believes.

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