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Pool’s out for burkini

The story in last Saturday’s Times of Malta of a Maltese Muslim woman who was ordered out of the Marsa Sports Club pool for attempting to swim in her Islamic bathing constume predictably triggered off a passionate debate.

Reactions ranged from accusations of discrimination to widespread applause from many who argued that people like the unnamed Muslim woman should either play by our rules or go back home.

The incident is not the first – similar confrontations have taken place in countries like France and the Netherlands.

While it is each club’s prerogative to establish its rules, it does not mean it is free to discriminate.

The Marsa club management’s argument that the woman was barred from swimming in the so-called burkini for “hygienic” reasons is ludicrous.

As awareness of the harmful impact of the sun grows, more people are covering up on beaches and at swimming pools. Nuns are often seen taking a dip in ‘modest’ clothing. Does this make them less hygienic?

The answer is clearly no.

It is a seriously feeble argument to distract us from the real problem, which is the excessive discriminatory behaviour towards Muslims.

Statements from the club president that he had no objection to another Muslim woman wearing a “European bathing suit” and referring to the woman in question as “not even an Arab, but Maltese” expose a stereotypical fear of anything different to our culture

And many who read the comments made by the club president could only conclude one thing – we do not want Muslims to mingle with us. Or at least, if you’re Muslim, don’t show it in public.

Statements from the club president that he had no objection to another Muslim woman wearing a “European bathing suit” and referring to the woman in question as “not even an Arab, but Maltese” expose a stereotypical fear of anything different to our culture.

Let me put my cards on the table – I am the first to condemn conservative Islamic states which go out of their way to suppress women. I do feel uncomfortable when I see women who hide their faces behind a burqa. And yes, some of them cover their faces out of religious conviction.

That is their choice and I have no right to impose my views upon them, the same way I feel Muslims have no right to dictate whether I should wear a cross around my neck.

Though we might not admit it, segregation is increasingly becoming part and parcel of our society. While some of us feel sorry for Muslim women for the way we feel their religion suppresses them, our attitudes are inadvertently forcibly segregating them out of society.

We are generally reluctant to accept anything different to our culture. For too many of us, a Muslim is nothing more than a dangerous being who is bound to impose his “dangerous beliefs” upon us. Even worse, we feel they're going to take over, and replace our churches with mosques. 

Within minutes of uploading the story on timesofmalta.com, the Marsa club president was being hailed a hero on the anti-immigrant social forums, a tag I suspect he doesn’t subscribe to.

Many posted on our message boards saying western attitudes would not be tolerated in a Muslim country.

Two wrongs don’t make a right and the minute we start imposing our beliefs and customs on people of different religions, the more we morph a culture of intolerance, the quicker will be our slippery path towards adopting the same intolerant habits of “Arab” countries we love criticising.

Ultimately, as columnist Andrew Borg Cardona rightly pointed out, this sorry incident becomes even more ridiculous when you realise it has taken place at a club once known as il-Marsa tal-Inglizi, a club for the privileged Brits where the Maltese were often excluded.

 

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