Fanatics are all the same

Published: August 2, 2016
A photo of Swissotel, Bosphorus where two Turkish women interjected writer's wife should be wearing a bikini because this was a swimming pool. PHOTO: Swissotel, The Bosphorus in Istanbul,

A photo of Swissotel, Bosphorus where two Turkish women interjected writer's wife should be wearing a bikini because this was a swimming pool. PHOTO: Swissotel, The Bosphorus in Istanbul,

A photo of Swissotel, Bosphorus where two Turkish women interjected writer's wife should be wearing a bikini because this was a swimming pool. PHOTO: Swissotel, The Bosphorus in Istanbul, The writer is counsel to KSM Law, an associate professor at Valparaiso University Law School in Indiana and an adjunct professor at Osgoode Hall Law School of York University. He tweets @faisalkutty

Last March, during an Umrah visit to Saudi Arabia, I was disturbed after witnessing the mutaween (religious police) forcing people to pray and harassing women to cover up.

Meanwhile earlier this year, Tehran announced that the city’s Gashte Ershad (the “guidance patrol”) had their mandate expanded. The city’s police chief, General Hossein Sajedi Nia, stated that “noise pollution, unsafe driving, disturbing girls and incorrect hijab” would be punished. This is, reportedly, a common announcement before the summer months, but this year the 7,000-strong force would be undercover with powers to enforce dress codes and even impound cars if occupants are not sufficiently covered.

Clearly, they had not received the memo highlighting the Quranic passage upholding that there was no compulsion in religion. The situation appears no different with secular fanatics. While the religious police in Muslim lands are busy enforcing religious rules, the secular police clearly don’t want to be outdone.

Years ago, I came face to face with secular liberal fanatics at the Swissotel, The Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey.

As I completed my lap in the swimming pool, I caught a glimpse of what appeared to be my wife being escorted out of the pool by hotel staff. We were on our honeymoon, minding our own business, when unbeknownst to us some political drama had been brewing in the background. Two other patrons at the five-star hotel had complained to the pool staff about my wife.

The staff asked my wife if she could leave the pool. My wife, who by nature is much more passive than I, had obliged. I climbed out of the pool, rushed over to her to find out what had transpired. “They are saying that I am not dressed appropriately,” said my wife.

I made my way to the counter and inquired as to what the issue was. The one in charge appeared worried and clearly did not want a confrontation. One of them sheepishly informed me that someone had complained about my wife’s swim attire. Not one to back off, I asked for a copy of the pool dress regulations. They said they did not have an official written policy so I asked for the manager.

While I waited for the manager, we explained to the staff that her outfit — tights, a long shirt and a swimmer’s cap — were all swimwear material and ought to be allowed in the pool. As we engaged with the staff, we noticed two women waiting around eavesdropping on our exchange. At one point, one of them interjected that my wife should be wearing a bikini because this was a swimming pool. The secular haram (prohibition or forbidden) police had spoken.

It quickly became evident that they were the complainants. Interestingly, there were many Westerners in the pool, and none of them had any objections to what my wife was wearing and neither did we object to what they were wearing, but these two Turkish women were clearly threatened by the extra bit of fabric. I told them it was none of their business what anyone else wore.

When I insisted to the staff that my wife be allowed to swim, the women became more aggressive and ordered the pool staff — obviously stuck in the middle — not to oblige. The women appeared to have some clout as regulars of the hotel fitness club or due to their social status.

When the manager arrived, we advised her that we would be escalating this if my wife was not allowed to swim with the dry-fit outfit she had on. In fact, we informed her that my wife had used this outfit in pools throughout the US, Canada and even in the Caribbean without any problems. The manager relented and apologised.

The two women were obviously furious. While walking away, I told the complainants that I did not like the way they were dressed (or more aptly undressed) and yet I had not objected or opposed their choice to dress as they pleased. At this point, one of the women turned to the manager and retorted that “these people are changing our country”.

The year was 2011, and she was alluding to ‘Islamists’ because, of course, an Islamic-leaning party was in power in Turkey. Unfortunately, I lost my cool and delivered some of the choicest un-Islamic words — clearly establishing that I was not an Islamist — and went back to the pool with my wife.

It was a shocker to me that these two Turkish secular fanatics (which clearly they were) had gone out of their way to impose their views on others.

The situation is not much different elsewhere. Last month, Switzerland became the latest to ban face veils by introducing a £8,000 fine. In June, Swiss authorities rejected the naturalisation application of two Muslim girls (ages 12 and 14) who refused to take swimming lessons with boys. Their father was also fined $4,000 Swiss francs for their refusal. The list of countries where women cannot wear the veil is growing longer each year.

A few months ago, Switzerland suspended the citizenship process of a Muslim family after their two sons refused to shake the hands of female teachers. Their understanding of Islamic norms precluded them from having physical contact with women outside their own immediate family circle. The authorities would have none of that. Freedoms were not worthy if they came with a religious tag.

Meanwhile in France, around the same time, a teenage Catholic girl who converted to Islam, K De Sousa, was banned from a Paris school because her skirt was too long. The head teacher informed the 16-year-old that the length of the skirt meant that it was an “ostentatious religious symbol” — prohibited in state schools since 2004. Interestingly, long skirts worn as a fashion statement are fine, but if worn out of religious conviction, then secularism would be threatened.

Indeed, even in the bastion of multiculturalism and pluralism, Canada, we witnessed a Muslim woman’s choice of dress become a national election issue when the Stephen Harper conservatives played politics with the niqab last year. Thankfully, the Federal Court of Appeal stopped him in his tracks but not until the government had squandered about half-a-million tax dollars. For both sets of extremists, assimilation and respect for local customs essentially means checking in your rights and freedom of conscience at the door. Sadly, the brunt of both secular and religious extremist policies is aimed at controlling women and how they dress and conduct themselves.

Indeed, secular fanatics are just as intimidating and coercive as religious fanatics. It’s about time both sets of fanatics gave it a rest.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 3rd, 2016.

Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.


Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (30)

  • Iron hand
    Aug 2, 2016 - 11:34PM

    When the “secular fanatics” start intentionally slaughtering innocent people by the thousands all over the world to impose “secularism” by force, or to punish people for not adhering to “secular” law, or for not converting to “secularism”, or because of a deep-seeded, perpetual, violent hatred of all things “non-secular”, then your comparison with “religious fanatics” will have some legitimacy. Until then, the comparison is nonsensical.Recommend

  • Rahul
    Aug 3, 2016 - 12:46AM

    Author should stick to Pakistan where they have the right mix of piety and hedonism. Recommend

  • srk
    Aug 3, 2016 - 12:51AM

    I am more scared of religious fundamentalists … there is no end to their interpretation of religion or culture … I think I can live with the seculars and the liberals … they may shout at me but I do not think will physically harm me, but with the religious types – you never know how far they will go.Recommend

  • Humanist
    Aug 3, 2016 - 6:13AM

    @Iron hand:
    Jeez. The writer made the comparison in a specific context. For Christ’s sake, learn to read. Recommend

  • Haramullah Fattuddin
    Aug 3, 2016 - 10:29AM


  • Humanist
    Aug 3, 2016 - 11:13AM

    I think India deserves that accolade more. They are the ones known for communal violence that has cost more than a million lives. Recommend

  • Brainy Bhaijan
    Aug 3, 2016 - 11:38AM

    I would live in a country filled up with liberal extremists than Islamic extremists any day. Comparing the two is height of stupidity.Recommend

  • JHS
    Aug 3, 2016 - 1:23PM

    Excellent article – I can totally vouch for the writers experience and opinion. Recommend

  • FoY
    Aug 3, 2016 - 2:06PM

    @Iron hand:
    Are you waiting for that day? The day it happens, it will be too late to fix the world. With Trump-like elements coming to power you can already foresee the fanatics at each extreme of spectrum fighting against each other.Recommend

  • Realist
    Aug 3, 2016 - 2:10PM

    Stay in Pakistan thenRecommend

  • khattak
    Aug 3, 2016 - 3:12PM

    to those who oppose these views, the britishers, spainish and portegese. what they did in 17 18 19th and 20th century was cultarisation, they were the fanatics and still are the fanatics of secularism. the time have changed now and religious fanatics are there but that doesn’t mean the secularism fanatics are any less worthy of the tag of fanatics.Recommend

  • azm
    Aug 3, 2016 - 3:37PM

    I think the comparison is uncalled for; calling those two women secular fanatics is really naive. The issue he cites was clearly of “decorum” and “proper manners” evolved over a period of time. The other examples he cites are those of oppressive regimes intimidating their own citizens via religiously inspired coercive tools and laws. Both are incomparable. His argument of what is happening in the West i.e. Switzerland and Canada etc. is equally faulty. It is not that they question women right to wear as they please rather they are making attempts to correct these women’s behavior borne out of their suppressed indoctrination. Besides, these patriarchal dress choices of Muslim women are not compatible with many Western nations’ constitutional values.Recommend

  • Torus Makto
    Aug 3, 2016 - 3:46PM

    and then some intelligent people make comparisons between zia and erdogan and media houses choose to endorse those views, i mean geez make up your mind how confused are you guysRecommend

  • Tulla
    Aug 3, 2016 - 5:00PM

    Women should have the control over their bodies not religious or secular fanatics. Some of the commentators are mentioning that western countries have the right to enforce their values. This means that the religious fanatics in developing countries also have the right to enforce their values in their countries as generally they are in majority. The correct position is that human rights trump the cultural values whether western or eastern. A woman has the right over her body; she can wear a bikini and can wear a hajib. It is her choice. Recommend

  • observer
    Aug 3, 2016 - 5:09PM


    So if there is no ‘Written’ dress code for the pool, I insist on wading in with my shoes on.

    Show me the rules forbidding shoes.

    PS- This guy really gets the wrong end of the stick all the time.
    First people expect him to park in the parking lot.
    And then they expect his wife to don pool attire.Recommend

  • asdf
    Aug 3, 2016 - 5:16PM

    You are equating the behaviour of two women to the law of the country (i.e. Iran/Saudi Arabia)? Hmmm…Recommend

  • Khan
    Aug 3, 2016 - 11:02PM

    @Iron hand:
    The secular fanatics have already slaughtered millions of innocents in Afghanistan and Iraq…so they can be compared to the religious fanatics…they (the secular fanatics) are even more dangerous given the sophisticated weapons they have…Recommend

  • Khan
    Aug 3, 2016 - 11:05PM

    Good article….seems this world will be torn apart between the battles of the secular and religious fanatics…the ordinary people bear the brunt…be it afganistan, iraq, syria, libya, egypt, turkey, france, usa, germany, etc…Recommend

  • ShamelessPakistanis
    Aug 4, 2016 - 12:12AM

    @Iron hand:
    True. Liberals & Seculars whatever the cult is, will come after you pretty hard. Basically you cannot criticize the media and they are the law.Recommend

  • sars
    Aug 4, 2016 - 12:38AM

    Its impossible to compare a couple of offensive people to the inhuman acts of religious extremism. you don’t see liberals beheading or enslaving or causing mass destruction . Whining that you arent allowed to swim in a tent is really not comparableRecommend

  • IndianDude
    Aug 4, 2016 - 12:58AM

    Funny thing is the author has chosen to immigrate and travel to the countries that are full of secular and liberal ‘fanatics’, instead of Pakistan, a country full of religious ‘fanatics’.
    Here in lies invalidation of ‘Fanatics are all the same’ theory.Recommend

  • Aisha
    Aug 4, 2016 - 2:32AM

    Women should not be swimming in the same pool as men and secondly they should be covered in a proper swimnsuit, not even one piece or bikini but that covers them entirely. Serves you right you were kicked out as you should go get a religious educationRecommend

  • MK
    Aug 4, 2016 - 2:34AM

    shes in a mixed pool, you completing your lap were far off leaving her unattended, shes in a mixed pool, wet. regardless of the so called covered clothes. then you complain? huhRecommend

  • H
    Aug 4, 2016 - 3:51AM

    @Rahul: and you should keep out of our affairs, slaveRecommend

  • Ahsen Ali
    Aug 4, 2016 - 9:21AM

    Very well written, this is the problem we either slide to one side or another, keeping balance is very important. Recommend

  • Usman
    Aug 4, 2016 - 9:35AM

    I can fully empathize with the author. Both sides of the world are filled with equally aggressive but polar opposite fundamentlists. And both of them have the potential to drive this world into a collision course!
    We should all be respectful of rights and values of one another. Religions teach moderation and humility. Human stubborness and egocentricity must not be equated with or mixed into religion or misconstrued as the latter’s teachings.
    A Muslim female should have the right to feel comfortable in an attire of her choice just as any Non Muslim. It is wrong to deny them the right of hijab and scarf in the name of secularism just as its not right to deny them education and liberty, the latter being done in our part of fundamentalist conservative world.

    Further, i believe generalization is wrong ; an individual sinner cannot represent a million others who share the same faith, but harbour the true set of values! Recommend

  • Nauman
    Aug 4, 2016 - 11:03AM

    @Iron hand:
    Meet any vegans ever?????Recommend

  • truthbetold
    Aug 5, 2016 - 2:58AM

    “Clearly, they had not received the memo highlighting the Quranic passage upholding that there was no compulsion in religion.”

    But the problem is that there are dozens of subsequent verses teach exactly the opposite.

    “Fanatics are all the same”. “Indeed, secular fanatics are just as intimidating and coercive as religious fanatics.”

    Not quite correct. False equivalence. While the secular fanatics can indeed be aggressive, the Islamic fanatics think they are carrying out god’s orders. These Islamic fanatics behead, bomb and terrorize those who don’t accept their views.Recommend

  • bush
    Aug 5, 2016 - 4:39AM

    Turkey is secular state and Military is supposed to protect it.No niqab or scarf in government jobs Universities and offices also in parliament.Turkish is written in Roman Script.
    Erdogan has tried to islamicise Turkey. USA is more liberal in clothing.Muslims should not insist on wearing Burqa here.It is important that all identify themselves in Public.In USA less than one percent Muslim men wear traditional clothes and expect more women to wear them.It is simply sexism and male chauvinism .Recommend

  • fuzz
    Aug 8, 2016 - 7:27PM

    @Iron hand:
    clearly you have been leaving under a rock otherwise you would know secular fanatics have killed millions of peopleRecommend

More in Opinion