Swimming Fully Clothed

An Argument For

Egyptian journalist and Muslim fundamentalist Safinaz Kazim writing in Asharq Al-Awsat (2007), a pan-Arabic newspaper, calls it a victory over the West because females thirteen years or older who plan on wandering onto any of Alexandria’s public beaches must now do so fully clothed. In her defense of going swimming fully clothed, Kazim also advocates a form of teaching which, in the West, we would consider sadistic.

The following translations are from the July 4, 2007 edition of Courrier International.

Our Victory Over The West

Translated from the French

by Bernard Payeur

There are many new luxurious beaches today in Egypt for the wealthy. I prefer the public beaches of Alexandria where I can discretely observe the people around me. People of modest means having fun. You will not find any girl of more than twelve wearing a bathing suit. The sea is alive with children. It seems to belong only to them! Their mothers, dressed as required by their religion, remain on the beach. Young girls and young women enter the water dressed in trousers and shirts, or the long, opaque djellaba.

The beach resonates with the laughter of these women. Such a spectacle does disturb those who would have us imitate the West; those who for years dreamt of beaches on the European model.

On my lips the smile of victory! Victory for Islamic principles which overcame all obstacles. A majority of Egyptians have decided that their beaches would conform to religious laws. Thank you God, I say with a heart gently beating to the rhythm of the waves, well aware that the reason for the joy that fills my heart fills the champions of secularity with despair.

… some [the champions of secularity] have said that “young people want to turn back the clock fifteen centuries!” They are upset that fifteen centuries means returning to the time of the Prophet and the beginning of Islam. I look out at the sea and sigh: “If only that were possible …”

How I envy our young people who are no longer taken in by false promises. They have discredited the so-called “modern thinkers” who camouflage their defeat as victories; who talk about their exploits instead of their humiliation; who proclaim liberty while surrendering body and soul to Western chains.

I can’t help when writing about these things, from quoting from a letter written by Egyptian historian Ahmad Amin to his son Hussein. In his letter, this famous man writes (paragraph breaks mine):

My son, the education you have received and the life you are living I have never known. My time was one of tradition, while yours wants to break with its past.

I was raised to obey my father and others in authority, while your schooling teaches you to question authority …

I learned sitting on a straw mattress from an all-knowing teacher. He would beat us for no reason. Your [female] teacher (institutrice), who was kind and respected children, taught you how to read and write in a playful manner, using pictures, drawings and songs.

My world was dominated by religion. Everywhere we praised it, everywhere we revered it. In the institutions where you have studied, religion is seldom mentioned and then mostly to criticize it …

So spoke one of those “enlightened minds.” His words need no explanation.

Safinaz Kazim, Asharq Al-Awsat (Notre victoire sur l’Occident, Courrier International, July 4, 2007)

An Argument Against

Dalal Al-Bizri, Lebanese sociologist and columnist for the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat writes in an column "A Defeat for Women" that journalist Safinaz Kazim is all wet when she writes in Asharq Al-Awsat, a pan-Arabic newspaper, that it is a victory for Islam over the West because women wishing to go swimming on Alexandria's public beaches must do so fully clothed.

A Defeat For Women

Translated from the French

by Bernard Payeur

Better to laugh than to cry. Arabs stand at the edge of the abyss, about to commit collective suicide, and the fundamentalists see this affinity for self-destruction and mass-murder as a “victory.” Victory over Israel and American plans for the region; victory and resounding defeat for the seculars and above all, victory for the beaches of Alexandria. This because one of the stars of Islamic television and contributor to a political daily has planted the banner of holy war against the seculars on the beaches of Alexandria.

In an accusatory article, journalist Safinaz Kazim rejoices at the seculars’ rout. She struts while contemplating the public beaches [of Alexandria]: on her lips “floats the smile of victory.” Why the smile? Because on the beaches “You will not find any girl of more than twelve wearing a bathing suit”; as to their mothers, they are all “dressed as required by their religion” and their “girls enter the water dressed in trousers and shirts, or the long, opaque djellaba.”

The “beach resonates with the laughter of these women.” An idyllic depiction of a bleak reality! If it is a victory, it is a victory obtained at women’s expense.

All these women on the beaches, [women] which are said to mirror Islamic values, cut a more erotic, seditious figure than any woman in a swimsuit. Any woman who has ever tried to swim fully-clothed is aware that she is not swimming; she can only, at best, struggle with the weight of her waterlogged clothing. This, in addition, to the nasty skin abrasions caused by the corrosive combination of salt and sand that gets embedded in clothing that takes forever to dry. And of course, especially “the long, opaque djellaba” is not an impediment to sex. Quite the opposite.

By clinging to the skin, by hugging the contours of the human body, these soaking-wet garments are much more suggestive than any ordinary swimsuit. The power of seduction of young women draped in this fashion and constrained in their movements is increased tenfold. The truth is that these “Islamic” beaches are crowded with people casting leering glances. It would have been better for the Islamic star, and her victory over western civilization would have appeared less ridiculous, had she fought for segregated beaches which are closer in spirit to the “time of the Prophet” – a time she yearns for. Is she even aware that the reason [Muslim] women can even go to the beach – in a swimsuit or an hijab – is due to western influence.

Before contact with the West, [Muslim] city-dwelling women were not allowed out of their homes except to go to the cemetery … They spent their entire lives secluded in a house, in a space designated for them. They only ventured outside after [Islam] adopted a more enlightened attitude [towards women] as a result of its confrontation with the West. It is only after that [Muslim] women began to work outside the home, to go to school and to stroll the beaches at Alexandria.

I doubt very much if the West is concerned with whether [Muslim] women go to the beach wearing a swimsuit or Islamic djellaba; instead they must laugh at this grotesque but dangerous quixotic ideal. This mobilization of Islamic forces against the seculars can lead to persecution and death threats. Acts of horrendous violence are only a step away for those who congratulate themselves for the defeat of the seculars.

Our Islamic celebrity is actually a former socialist. She brags about never having appeared in public in a swimsuit. She conveniently ignores the time she hitchhiked across Europe in a mini-skirt. What is left of her past in the “correct path” she now treads? Bitterness and anger. She has exchanged her past for a fairy-tale existence. She has buried herself in bitterness so deep that she has become its personification on the small screen, where, for lack of debate, she is content to pour out a stream of invocations and quotes from religious texts. She has rid herself of her socialist past in the same way she abandoned her parents’ traditional ways to embrace an alien philosophy.

Dalal Al-Bizri, Al-Hayat (Une défaite pour les femmes, Courrier International, July 4, 2007)