Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

What should we wear?

The recent controversy in France about what one is permitted to wear on certain beaches is not so much about dress codes as it is about religious freedom. Secularism is a kind of civil religion in France, and secularists can be just as intolerant as the followers of any other religion when their religion is allied to state power. The laws that prevented Muslim women from wearing a burkini applied just as much to Christian or Buddhist monastics, Sikh turban wearers, and perhaps Hindu loin-cloth wearers as they did to Muslim women. Fortunately a higher court has found such laws to be ultra vires, so they may soon be scrapped.

Matt Stone asks a more general question about dress codes on his blog — Where do you draw boundaries on dress codes? (Curious Christian):

What would a universally acceptable dress code even look like? In some (sub)cultures full body coverings including face coverings are mandatory for all. In some (sub)cultures clothing is optional. Two extremes on a spectrum. In my own culture jeans and shirts are the norm, with bearing shoulders and midriff common in summer in informal settings. Head coverings are acceptable but face coverings of any sort are seen as subversive and banned in high security areas.

Concerning face coverings, in Western culture there is, of course, the stereotype of the masked bandit, so people who cover their faces must be up to no good. But this does not apply to the French “burkini bans”, because in those garments the face is not covered.

helmetBut Western culture also has the tradition of the masked ball, and there are people who wear celebrity masks in public, which cover their faces and make them look like someone else. Are those illegal or frowned upon in Australia? And don’t American kids wear masks at Hallowe’en?

So where do you draw the line about face coverings?

In some circumstances they are permissible, but in others there is the assumption that someone who covers their face in a way that makes recognition difficult is suspected of having criminal intentions.

anonymousAnd even when they are not regarded as criminal, sometimes masks can be seen as subversive.

So should all face coverings be banned? Or just criminal ones? Or just religious ones?

Though face coverings may be part of a dress code, they are also a special case, and perhaps one should separate the question of dress codes from the question of face coverings.

It is also important to make a distinction between secular and secularist.

Secular is a descriptive adjective, while secularism is an ideology with religious overtones.

A secular society is one in the law does not impose any religious or theological view on people. The law is neutral in matters of religion. Thus a secular society can allow freedom in matters of religion. A secularist society, on the other hand, will seek to suppress religion, and curtail religious freedom.

The French towns that have sought to restrict the kind of clothing that can be worn on beaches have done so in the name of the ideology of secularism. The reason they give for this is that the wearing of clothing that reveals the religious views of the wearer could lead to public disturbances.

I thijnk these are sisters of the Community of the Holy Name, whom I knew in Zululand. If certain French mayors had their way, they would niot be permitted to do this in France

I think these are sisters of the Community of the Holy Name (CHN), whom I knew in Zululand. If certain French mayors had their way, they would not be permitted to do this in France

As is seen in the picture above, recently posted on Facebook, some Christian monastics wear distinctive dress. And many monastics also have dress codes and other restrictions for people who visit their monasteries. A secular society would respect such codes, but a secularist society might not. People can often be hypocritical in demanding that “freedom of expression” be allowed in other societies and cultures, which they would not allow in their own — see Pussy Riot, freedom of expression and Western hypocrisy | Khanya.

Is a dress code imposed by a monastery on its visitors comparable to the code imposed by municipal authorities on visitors to a public beach? Is there a difference between public and private spaces, and if so, what is it?

And this by no means exhausts the question of dress codes and their significance. For a different aspect, see Izikhothane: a new word for an old fashion? | Khanya.

 

 

 

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One thought on “What should we wear?

  1. Rangjan on said:

    “The French towns that have sought to restrict the kind of clothing that can be worn on beaches have done so in the name of the ideology of secularism.”

    The 30 or so municipalities that passed these local ordinances that prohibited the burkini on their beaches have claimed they were following the French principle of laïcité. This is often translated as “secularism” but I think the concept is a bit more complex than this. It is worth reading widely to get a better understanding of this concept, since it is explained differently and often badly.

    But I want to just highlight that people often act for one reason, while citing a different reason, and I believe that it applies in this case. The mayors and councillors who passed the local ordinances were actually acting on the basis of Islamophobia. This is pretty self-evident, from the justifications that they gave for passing these local ordinances. They cited the recent attacks by so-called Islamists, and “security concerns”. The claim that all religious groups would be impacted by the ordinances is not really relevant here, because the ordinances would adversely impact Islamic people, and would be mainly targeted (in purpose and enforcement) at them. This Islamophobia is not derived from any sense of secularism. A further example of how this is a right-wing political tactic (to polarise an issue, and seek short-term advantage) is seen in the way the opportunist Sarkozy (former right-wing President) came out strongly in favour of the bans (just before they were found to be legally unjust). He knows that he stands a better chance of winning the forthcoming Presidential elections if he can pander to the base of the National Front. We have seen how centre-right politicians throughout Europe have adopted this tactic: they believe that by pandering to the far-right, they can benefit from a rightward shift in the electorate. It is extremely dangerous and short-sighted.

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