Extremism Works Both Ways

I spend most of my days and nights highlighting problem areas in Orthodox communities as well as viable solutions, with the intention of bringing about much needed changes. Said problem areas include the need to address the treatment and prevention of abuse, the agunah crisis, the erasure of women from publications, the lack of leadership roles for women in Jewish communities, the need to allow for healthy disagreement when we think or interpret law differently, etc.

When people are denied an elementary education, let alone a university degree, we cry out. When women’s dress, education, marriages, and practically every fiber of their beings are policed, we cry out. When we see religious extremism which results in terror, violence, and murder, we cry out.

The onus falls on all of us who decry religious extremism to do the same for secular extremism. When four men of the law approached a woman and forced her to remove part of her swim clothing because of a ban on the burkini, we need to call a spade a spade. They were wrong, the ban is wrong, and it is nothing short of secular extremism. It was an extreme measure that treated the woman like an object, no less than the type of objectification that occurs when women are required to wear burqas against their will.

We could cite the many reasons why it is reasonable to allow a person to wear a burkini. The burkini protects you from skin cancer. The burkini can give plus-size people some extra coverage. (I’m not going to address the condescending tone in that line of reasoning in this piece.) The burkini looks mighty similar to just about any wetsuit. The burkini is not loose like the burqa and does not need to be an alarm for having hidden weapons.

But how about this? The burkini should be allowed and available for women who want to abide by their religious beliefs. Full stop.

Just as many fight for freedom from religion, we should be advocating for freedom of religion. The same way we fight for women to be allowed to show their skin, we should also be fighting when women want to show less skin. Extremism, be it religious or secular, should never be tolerated. If we only speak up when religious extremism encroaches on society, we are not being honest nor true to what should be at stake: choice.  

What can we do? We can share articles to this effect on social media. We can have conversations with colleagues and peers. We can let the French ministry of tourism know, that we are not interested in visiting a beach where a woman is coerced into removing clothing in broad daylight. We can think wisely about where to spend tourist dollars. We can speak up for this woman who was being controlled by an extremist regime, one that should not be tolerated any more or less than the extremism at the other end of the spectrum.

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