A man named Henry Stewart of London wrote a letter to the editor this week in The Guardian.
And it’s certainly worth a read.
Like most letters to editors, it was probably easy to miss. It wasn’t splashed across a front page or heavily promoted by the paper online.
But in fewer than 100 words, Stewart’s letter totally nails the absurdity of banning burqas and burkinis (full-body bathing suits some Muslim women wear), which has become a hot-button issue on the world stage in recent weeks.
Stewart argues that if we’re going to start policing clothing for the sake of public safety, it clearly makes the most sense to start with men in suits:
“No woman in a burqa (or a hijab or a burkini) has ever done me any harm. But I was sacked (without explanation) by a man in a suit. Men in suits missold me pensions and endowments, costing me thousands of pounds. A man in a suit led us on a disastrous and illegal war. Men in suits led the banks and crashed the world economy. Other men in suits then increased the misery to millions through austerity. If we are to start telling people what to wear, maybe we should ban suits.”
Although the short message only took up a few inches of space in print, it’s made big waves online, racking up hundreds of thousands of views on Imgur and making its way to the front page of Reddit on Aug. 31, 2016.
Clearly, Stewart’s words are resonating.
Stewart’s letter comes amid several communities in the French Riviera banning burkinis on public beaches.
The bans,which cropped up after recent terrorist activity in France namely, the truck attack in Nice on Bastille Day have sparked debate about the rights of minorities in a secular country, public safety, and what some see as religious oppression of women.
But what are these bans really about?
These new restrictions are an extension of Frances ban on full-face coverings legislation that indirectly targets Muslim women. A main objective of that 2010 law is to ensure public safety by keeping criminals from hiding behind concealed clothing, according to some officials.
Many French leaders in favor of the new bans have also pointed to the sexist nature of full-body swimsuits, arguing burkinis are clearly at odds with gender equality.
But public safety and sexism really arent the motives behind these new measures. Islamophobia is.
If the bans were really about ensuring equality, wed be banning the modest swimwear some Jewish and Christian women wear, too, the Chicago Tribunes Steve Chapman argues. And if the French government is really concerned about the rights of Muslim women, regulating burkinis is the last thing they need to be doing anyway.
“If some Muslim men employ violence or threats to control their wives and daughters, the target of government policy should be detecting and ending that sort of abuse,” Chapman writes. “Forbidding burkinis is like trying to combat rape by telling women they can’t have sex.”
Burkini bans are hypocrisy at its worst, according to Chapman, as they suggest “France must dictate what Muslim women wear to teach them that no one may dictate what they wear.”
They don’t make sense, and they don’t keep us safer.
Stewart’s letter to the editor comes from the perspective of a Londoner. But much of what he says holds true in the U.S., too.
Men in suits (not Muslim women) were largely responsible for the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 a move that didn’t make us safer but did contribute to the political destabilization of the region and cost thousands of American lives.
Men in suits (not Muslim women) were largely responsible for the Great Recession, their recklessness and greed costing Americans trillions of dollars in household wealth, pulling millions into poverty.
As far as being mugged, there’s little evidence to suggest a man in a suit is any more or less dangerous than anyone else.
But one particular man in a suit is helping to fuel the rising rates of Islamophobia that American Muslims have to live with each day.
As some jurisdictions make moves to restrict clothing for Muslims in the name of equality and safety, they’re policing a group that, ironically, is already living more at-risk of violence and discrimination.
Much of that spike can be attributed to a backlash from terrorism at home and abroad. And harmful, ignorant rhetoric about Muslims coming from certain politicians in the wake of those attacks only stokes the fire.
As Stewart summed up so perfectly, it’s ludicrous to treat Muslim women like suspected criminals just because of their clothing.
And if we want to tackle the injustices some groups have inflicted on others, Muslim women certainly aren’t the first group to put on trial.