Richard Greeman's Blog

Letters from Richard Greeman in France: Burkinis and Bombs

Dear Friends, Following the publication of my historical footnote (« Burkinis and Bombs : What’s New ? »)[1] which sparked polemics in two languages, I would like to clarify my personal position on burkinis, hijabs, yarlmukes, tvillin and other manifestions of relgious orthodoxy : I hate them. Of Russian-Jewish origin, I was raised in the U.S. by parents and grand-parents who had fled Czarist Russia to escape from three plagues : anti-semitism, military service (27 years !) and above all Jewish orthodoxy with its Medieval customs, particularly forced marriages. I have thus legitimately inherited my visceral aversion to all outward signs of religious orthodoxy from my mother and and grand-mothers, who were agnostics, socialists and strongly feminist. They would have been horrified if they had lived to see post-modern orthodox Jewish women with shaved heads and wigs on the streets of Brooklyn, London and Tel Aviv. But in the case of the burkini, for me it was a question of defending the personal freedom of women who were excluded and persecuted for their beliefs. My attitude is summarized in this admirable sentence which Americans (mistakenly) attribute to Voltaire : « I hate what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it. » Concerning the wearing of distinctive clothing and headgear, Voltaire, in his English Letters, satirized French absolutism by describing the floor of the London Stock Exchange in which Quakers, with their black broad-brimed hats, Jews in their yarmulkes and ordinary Christian in three-cornered hats traded peacefully and honored each others’ word with their trust. This tolerance was based on Enlightenment liberalism (« laisser faire, laisser passer ») and capitalist freedom, today in obvious regression. Nonetheless, my article has been accused of « supporting ISIS ». In fact, I have for many years been a supporter of another Middle Eastern group, the Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq, which struggles against religious sectarianism. Religious sectarianism was imposed in Iraq by the U.S. occupation after the overthrow of secular dictator Saddam Hussein, the better to divide and rule Iraq. ISIS is a direct result of that blind imperialist policy. If you really want to fight ISIS, I strongly recommend you go to the website of these brave Iraqi women and help them : To return to the burkini, I have personal experience of the humiliation and rage of today’s Moslem women excluded from the beach, because in my youth there were still « exclusive » beaches around New York where Jews were not welcome. So I sympathise with the Moslem women who were interviewed about their feelings in this morning’s N. Y. Times

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