Bali, bikinis, Miss World and fear of Islam’s ‘extremist fringe’

I would like to ask a journalistic question and I want to stress that this question is sincere.

I am not asking this question as part of a rationalization maneuver that allows me to write a post that contains the words “bikinis” and “Islam” in the same headline. Honest.

So here is my question: Does anyone in the mainstream press actually care about what Islam does or does not teach about women’s issues?

Let me put a more specific edge on this question: I get it that traditional forms of Islam stress modesty, but does anyone know what various schools of thought in Islam teach that would lead to, let’s say, a single-piece bathing suit being significantly less sinful than a bikini? Also, is this stress on modesty rooted in culture alone or in interpretations of specific passages in the Koran and other crucial texts?

In other words, is there information that journalists should be referencing in stories about women’s issues, passages worthy of commentary by sources?

Questions about journalistic issues linked to Islamic teachings and tradition have been bothering me for some time, as regular GetReligion readers may have noticed. Right now I am asking these specific questions because of an Associated Press story out of the Pacific rim that ran at The Herald Sun with the rather dangerous headline: “Miss World removes bikinis in Muslim Indonesia.” And here’s the top of the story:

Contestants at this year’s Miss World beauty pageant will not wear bikinis in the parade in a bid to avoid causing offence in Muslim-majority Indonesia, organisers have confirmed.

The 137 women taking part in the September contest will swap bikinis for more conservative attire, such as traditional sarongs, for the beach fashion section.

The contest is being held on the resort island of Bali, where foreign tourists flock in their millions and the beaches are packed with women sunbathing in skimpy swimwear.

But Miss World Organisation chairwoman Julia Morley insisted that none of the pageant’s contestants would wear a bikini.

The religion angle in the story is rather obvious. At this point (check their website), the Miss World authorities seem to be balancing several concerns at the same time — with their eyes focused on television ratings as well as event-site security. Yes, there will be a “beach fashion” section of the competition, but none of the contestants will sport a bikini.

So far so good. So they will all wear sarongs? That isn’t what the statement said.

So what is going on here and what does Lady Gaga have to do with it? Here’s all this short story will say:

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