Does Clothing Make You a Terrorist? Scotland and France Make New Muslim Dress Policies.

Authorities in France and Scotland are taking very different approaches to Islamic dress in their societies.

Reactions to growing terrorist threats have varied in countries around the world and show Western countries divided in how to integrate their Muslim populations.


Coming off a series of horrific terror attacks over the past months, including the sea-side carnage in Nice that saw 86 people moved down by a truck, a number of French towns decided to ban burkinis, full-body swimsuits for Muslim women.

In particular, 15 French cities on the Mediterranean coast are banning the burkini, with some Muslim women already getting fines of about $42 for wearing them.

The idea behind the ban is that religious clothing, like a burkini, is incompatible with France's secular values. Nice’s deputy mayor, Christian Estrosi said that “hiding the face or wearing a full-body costume to go to the beach is not in keeping with our ideal of social relations”. 

Thierry Migoule, the head of municipal services for Cannes, which also banned the burkini, went even further in describing the burkini as “ostentatious clothing which refers to an allegiance to terrorist movements which are at war with us”.

In a stark contrast to such thinking, police in Scotland have taken a very different path. They announced that the hijab, a head-covering scarf, will now be part of its official uniform, increasing diversity in the force. 

The hope is to attract more Muslim women who might not have considered a career in Scottish law enforcement. The hijab was already an optional part of the uniform, based on approval by senior staff. 

Chief constable Phil Gormley explained why they made the move to include hijabs:

“I am delighted to make this announcement and welcome the support from both the Muslim community, and the wider community, as well as police officers and staff. Like many other employers, especially in the public sector, we are working towards ensuring our service is representative of the communities we serve. I hope that this addition to our uniform options will contribute to making our staff mix more diverse and adds to the life skills, experiences and personal qualities that our officers and staff bring to policing the communities of Scotland.” 

This move was welcomed by members of the Muslim community like Fahad Bashir, chair of the Scottish Police Muslim Association, who said:

“This is a positive step in the right direction, and I am delighted that Police Scotland is taking productive steps in order to ensure that our organisation is seen to be inclusive and represents the diverse communities that we serve across Scotland. No doubt this will encourage more women from Muslim and minority ethnic backgrounds to join Police Scotland.” 

Of course, one big difference between Scotland and France is the number of Muslims in the countries. Scotland’s Muslim population was at around 78,000 in 2011, about 1.4% of its population. In France, the Muslim population is estimated to be about 7.5-10% of its population, depending on who is counting, totaling around 4.7 to 6 million people.

In order to promote secularism, it’s actually illegal in France to collect data on religious and ethnic affiliation of its citizens. Even officially asking such questions is seen as a kind of discrimination. Of course, the reality is that many view what is happening with the burkini bans as an instance of discrimination especially as no one is attempting to ban Catholic nuns from wearing their outfits on the beach or elsewhere.  

If you’d like to know more about some of the different outfits that Muslim women wear, here are a few helpful explanations:

A hijab is a veil or headscarf covering the head and chest, worn by Muslim women around adult males who are not part of their immediate family. It's a symbol of modesty and privacy. It does leave the face clear.

Wearing a hijab, American Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad faces the media during a press conference on August 4, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

A niqab, by comparison, is a veil for the face that leaves only the eyes clear. And there's a separate eye veil you can get to cover those up as well. Niqabs were banned in France in 2011.

Foreign tourists wearing niqab have a rest on a bench in downtown Tbilisi in George on August 16, 2016. (Photo by VANO SHLAMOV/AFP/Getty Images)

burka (burqa) is a piece of clothing that covers a woman's whole body when in public. It's the outfit that hides everything, including the face. There's just a mesh screen for seeing.

A burqa-clad Afghan woman walks prior to offering prayers at the start of Eid al-Fitr which marks the end of Ramadan, at the Jami mosque in Herat province on July 6, 2016. (Photo by AREF KARIMI/AFP/Getty Images)

A burkini or “burqini” covers everything but the face, hands and feet and is used for swimming.

Sydney, AUSTRALIA: Mecca Laa Laa (center) wearing a full body covering known as the 'burqini', sits on a rescue board at Sydney's Cronulla beach, 04 February 2007. Australia's first group of Muslim lifesavers hit the sands of Sydney's Cronulla beach, just over a year after mobs of whites attacked Lebanese Australians there in a bid to 'reclaim the beach.' The race riots, the country's worst of modern times, sparked a series of retaliatory attacks in which churches, shops and cars were trashed and left Australians of Middle Eastern appearance fearful of going to the beach. (Photo by ANOEK DE GROOT/AFP/Getty Images)

Big Think
Sponsored by Lumina Foundation

Upvote/downvote each of the videos below!

As you vote, keep in mind that we are looking for a winner with the most engaging social venture pitch - an idea you would want to invest in.

Keep reading Show less

Scientists discover how to trap mysterious dark matter

A new method promises to capture an elusive dark world particle.

Surprising Science
  • Scientists working on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) devised a method for trapping dark matter particles.
  • Dark matter is estimated to take up 26.8% of all matter in the Universe.
  • The researchers will be able to try their approach in 2021, when the LHC goes back online.
Keep reading Show less

Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

Videos
  • As a stand-up comedian, Pete Holmes knows how words can manipulate audiences — for good and bad.
  • Words aren't just words. They stich together our social fabric, helping establish and maintain relationships.
  • Holmes has a clever linguistic exercise meant to bring you closer to the people around you.