The ‘Burkini’, a full-coverage swimsuit with a hood that is often worn by Muslim women has been the subject of many arguments about racism and sexism since its recent ban in several French cities. Political leaders including France’s Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, have instilled the ban because of the burkini’s “affirmation of Political Islam in a public space,” (Chrisafis, 2016). The emergence of a recent photograph of French police approaching a woman at a beach in Nice who was wearing full-coverage clothing and a headscarf, and her resultantly removing some of her clothing has caused a social media frenzy on the issue, with many arguing against the ban as an infringement on human rights.
Caroline Overington’s article “Burkini ban follows tradition of restrictions and dress codes” and May Fahmi’s “Burkini ban: why we need to fight it on our beaches” are both opinion pieces written in response to the photograph and burkini ban. While both articles are on the same topic, they present opposing opinions. Both articles can be placed in the opinion category rather than being classed as argumentative, and both carry the same underlying assumption- that their readers are somewhat conflicted on the subject and can sympathise with both sides of the burkini ban debate.
Overington’s article, which was published by ‘The Australian’ on August 27, 2016, argues primarily that the burkini supports the oppression of women and extreme Islam ideology and should therefore be banned. The author is writing from the perspective of an Australian, Caucasian woman who is not Muslim, and does not wear a hijab, burkini or any other religious garments.
The main claim of Fahmi’s article, which was published by the ‘The Sydney Morning Herald’ on August 25, 2016, is that the freedom to wear a burkini should be a woman’s right. The author writes from the perspective of a Muslim woman who wears a burkini when going to the beach.
Due to the proliferation of Islamic State and terrorism in the media, most people in Australia are used to the religion of Islam being portrayed in a negative light. The two authors realise this, which influences the content of their articles. Overington plays on this association between radical Islam and certain women’s clothing to convince readers of her view, while Fahmi must encourage her readers to forget this association, and focus on the broader meaning of the issue.
Both authors also recognise that the Australian media is becoming increasingly critical of sexism, and consequently more and more women are identifying as feminists, which results in a conflicted viewpoint when reading articles on the subject of freedom to wear the burkini. On one hand, most readers will agree that women should be able to wear what they choose, but on the other hand, they are uncertain about whether wearers of the burkini actually want to wear them, or are doing so because their religion dictates.
As the majority of Australians are either not religious or Christian, most readers will not be able to empathise with wearing religious garments such as the burkini, and both articles are written with this in mind. Overington explains what she thinks the burkini symbolises, for example in this sentence: (The burkini) “exists because the religion tells women their body parts are shameful and if they don’t cover them, they are tempting men into the realm of the immoral and will therefore go to hell.” Overington says this knowing that because most readers will not have a first-hand experience of wearing the burkini, they will be more prone to agreeing with her explanation than if they were Muslim.
Fahmi, knowing that most readers do not identify as Muslim, uses personal experience as a way to convince people of the harmlessness of the burkini; putting an emphasis on her choice to wear it. “I wear the burkini not out of some subversive political fervour, but out of personal choice, plain and simple,” says Fahmi, almost as if she is defending the wearing of it, which reflects her knowledge that a large proportion of readers will be critical of the outfit.
Overington’s main claim, while not explicitly stated, is heavily implied through statements in the article. Quotes such as this: “Just as it’s your right to wear a white hood in some states, thereby aligning yourself with the forces of racism and hatred, it should absolutely be your right to cover yourself in a niqab and thereby align yourself with those who seek to subjugate women by forcing them to adhere to an endless number of rules that do not apply to men,” make it clear that although the author says that wearing a burkini should be a right, she does so sarcastically, and does not in fact agree with the burkini being worn, especially by comparing it to the uniform of the Klu Klux Klan.
The warrant behind the author’s main claim is that fighting against ideals that subjugate women is more important than freedom of dress. The author uses several instances of justificatory support in order to convince readers of her views. The nature of the article’s justifications is quite analogous, focusing on other circumstances where dress is restricted in order to highlight the fact that the ban is not out of the ordinary. The quote “There are plenty of places you can’t go dressed a certain way. Some obvious examples: you can’t go into a bank wearing a ¬motorcycle helmet or a face bandana,” makes it seem as if the attention the burkini ban is receiving in the media is out of proportion.
Fahmi’s main claim, in contrast to Overington’s, is explicitly mentioned in her article. In the final paragraph of her article she says, “All women are not one big homogeneous group who can be controlled by zealous politicians. If a woman wants to wear a burkini, so be it.” This statement sums up the argument of her article- that women should have the right to wear what they want, the burkini being no exception to this.
The warrant behind Fahmi’s claim is that the wearing of the burkini, or any other religious garments, should be treated the same as any other clothing, regardless of the meanings behind it. The nature of Fahmi’s justifications that support her claim is often emotional, but also appeals to ethics and the law. Statements such as “In her place, (talking about the woman being policed on the beach in Nice) I probably would have refused and walked off, but it is hard to know what sense of embarrassment and belittlement she felt at that moment in time,” encourage the reader to empathise with the plight of Muslim women facing discrimination for their clothing choices. The author also appeals to ethics and politics in justifying her claim with statements such as “For a democratic country, indeed a western beacon for liberty, France sure has a bizarre way of ensuring “liberte, egalite, fraternite” for all.” In this way she is questioning the ban in the context of the French political system, which gives her argument a sense of rectifying injustice, making it appeal to readers’ morality.
Both articles are largely opinionated as opposed to being argumentative, although they do contain elements of argumentation. Overington’s article heavily uses the persuasive techniques of precedent and colloquial language, while Fahmi’s writing favours personal experience and visuals to convince readers of her views.
Overington’s article is definitely an opinion piece, due to the ambiguity of her exact argument. She never explicitly lays out in the text that the burkini should in fact remain banned; it is a controversial stance to take and the author leaves her message up for interpretation by the readers.
She uses many examples in order to persuade readers of her opinion, appealing to precedence with the warrant that the past should impact decisions made in the present. The statement: “Radical Islamicists murdered 84 people by ploughing a truck through a Bastille Day crowd in Nice last month. The ban is therefore an effort to stamp out any overt displays of support for a twisted ideology and to ease community tension,” was written with the intent that readers associate this past event with the wearing of the burkini, as they are both results of a “twisted ideology”.
Overington also rebuts many arguments against the burkini ban, which is a common persuasive technique that signals to readers that the article is balanced and unbiased. The use of rebuttal also supports the existence of the article’s assumption that the audience will not readily accept the argument; they require some convincing. Overington also employs colloquial language throughout the article. Phrases such as “But, hey, it’s up to you” and “That’s the guts of it, anyway” are used to make the readers feel more personally connected to the article, as if the author were a friend instead of a stranger, which makes them more likely to agree.
Fahmi’s article can be classed as opinionative writing, as it is laden with emotive language as a result of the proximity between the author and the subject. As a woman who is discriminated against by the ban taking effect, Fahmi is quite subjective in her article, drawing from personal values, as mentioned in earlier examples. That being said, Fahmi does employ objective argument techniques such as the rebuttal of opposing arguments and examples to illustrate her points. This statement: “Similar fears (of women in burkinis having trouble swimming because of the fabric) are not held for other swimmers and surfers who wear full body suits, so why is it OK for them and not for us,” not only counters the argument that the burkini is impractical for swimming, but provides the example that surfers often wear a similar outfit.
Fahmi’s article also uses a number of persuasive techniques, especially personal experience/emotive language and visual elements. Emotive language is persuasive because it helps the writer to connect with the audience- lessening their cynicism and therefore making them more likely to agree with the argument. An example of Fahmi’s emotive language is this statement: “All women are not one big homogeneous group who can be controlled by zealous politicians. If a woman wants to wear a burkini, so be it,” which has the power to stir up anger and defiance in readers, making it a strong persuasive technique.
Fahmi also uses photographs to aid her argument: one of her smiling in a burkini at the beach, and another of a fashion designer with a model wearing one of her designs. The photo of the author wearing a burkini is a powerful persuasive technique because of the message it sends to the readers. She is smiling, which signals that she is happy wearing it. This aids her argument that the burkini is not oppressive. The style of the photo is casual and candid, showing the readers that she is just like any other Australian woman enjoying a day at the beach, which signals that the burkini is just like any other type of swimwear, and should not be treated differently by being prohibited.
Although both articles are on the same subject, the portrayal of the burkini and Muslim women is extremely different in each one, which shows the authors’ differing world-views. Overington portrays the burkini as an object of “twisted ideology” that oppresses Muslim women who are victims under Islam, being forced to wear it against their will. This portrayal shows that Overington’s world-view is quite Western-centered, anti-religion, and pro-feminist. Fahmi’s world-view can also be considered pro-feminist, but for a different reason. Her portrayal of the burkini is positive, considering it a choice that is empowering for women to be able to make. It is for her almost a symbol of justice in the political system.
The conditions under which Overington’s article would be effective in persuading a reader is if they share similar values to her and agree that the concept of covering-up in accordance with Islam is sexist. The conditions under which Fahmi’s article would be persuasively effective are opposite to Overington’s; readers would have to agree that religion should be irrelevant to the fact that policing what women are able to wear is unacceptable, and that it being relevant is racist.
Both articles have arguments that can be said to be fair and reasonable overall. However, they both contain informal fallacies. Despite her negativity towards the religion of Islam, Overington’s argument is conducted in good faith. She does not like the ideas behind the religion because she feels that it oppresses women, which heavily influences her stance on the burkini ban. Fahmi’s argument is also fair and reasonable; she herself wears the burkini and therefore does not agree with the ban. Through her personal experience with the issue, she is able to say first-hand what is wrong with the ban.
Despite their solid reasoning, both articles do have their faults. Overington’s argument’s main informal fallacy is her use of false analogies. In statements such as “The Qantas Club won’t let you in these days without a proper pair of shoes,” the author is equating two scenarios that are extremely different. Being let into ‘The Qantas Club’ is not the same as being on a public beach, and ‘proper’ shoes are not similar to a garment with religious meaning behind it.
Fahmi’s major informal fallacy is her use of the ‘strawperson argument’. In the quote “All women are not one big homogeneous group who can be controlled by zealous politicians,” Fahmi is arguing that by banning the burkini politicians are trying to control all women, which is stretching the politicians’ reasoning behind the ban.
While the opinion articles “Burkini ban follows tradition of restrictions and dress codes” and “Burkini ban: why we need to fight it on our beaches” present extremely different opinions, world-views, and portrayals of the subject, they both carry the underlying assumption that most readers will not be one-sided on the issue; instead having conflicting thoughts about the ban that they will need to weigh up in order to agree or disagree with the authors’ opinions. Both articles also exhibit feminist values, although their means of expressing them greatly differ.
Fahmi’s article: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/burqini-ban-why-we-need-to-fight-it-on-our-beaches-20160825-gr0o8n.html
Overington’s article: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/columnists/burkini-ban-follows-tradition-of-restrictions-and-dress-codes/news-story/f7180ecb14d286097b43d1a8230c2405
Manuel Valls’ quote: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/aug/28/french-mayors-burkini-ban-court-ruling