This week, you may have heard more about a few Southern and Corsican French towns and their ban on what has been dubbed the burkini. A ban which is spectacularly misjudged.
The mayors and elected officials of these places give a plethora of reasons for putting this into force. The official line in Cannes is “Beachwear that ostentatiously displays religious affiliation, when France and places of worship are currently the target of terrorist attacks, is liable to create risks of disrupting public order.” Riiight. The mayor of Villeneuve-Loubet has boldly claimed that swimming in a burkini is “unhygienic.” I’m sorry, but what the shitting shit? Sisco Mayor Ange-Pierre Vivoni has hit back against criticism to say that the ban is apparently not racist but aimed at protecting people of North African descent as much as anyone else. Wow – you fucking hero, dude. Thierry Migoule, the head of Cannes municipal services, doesn’t mess about at all, though. He called the burkini “ostentatious clothing referring to an allegiance to terrorist movements that are at war with us.” A prejudice which, by banning the burkini, is now totally legitimised.
Along with France’s nationwide ban on full face coverings (bike helmets, masks, and the like as well as niqab and burqas, by the way) it is an ethically tough one as an atheist and as a feminist. Women’s rights minister Laurence Rossignol denounced the burkini as “profoundly archaic”, and she is totally right. But to prevent someone from wearing what they want is, however you look at it, really really bad news and starts us all on an extremely slippery slope away from those pesky basic human rights and personal freedoms.
I admire France’s secularism, and I do understand some of the reasoning behind the ban of full face coverings (for security and personal connection purposes), but it is a dangerous way of dealing with the very complex issue. This goes for right and left wing politicians – in France the mostly fractured left is united behind secularism, which is probably why there were so few opponents to the ban, with the admirable but misguided statement that they were acting to protect the “gender equality” and “dignity” of women.
I do believe that any woman wearing the hijab (headscarf), niqab (which leaves the eyes free) or burqa (full face covering) isn’t really making a personal choice, whether they think they are or not. I might (might) be slightly swayed to that possibility if Muslim men had to cover themselves in the same way, but they do not. Islam’s use of these items of clothing are one of the most blatant forms of female oppression in today’s society. Some women will be very obviously forced into covering themselves up, others will think it is their choice because of being brainwashed by a belief system that, to use Rossignol’s words, as they fit so well, is “profoundly archaic.” But it isn’t the point – it is a separate issue.
Female oppression, or any evil action, should never be excused just because the force behind it is such an old and established lie, of course, and please don’t go the route of “It is just their culture” because it’s really condescending and apathetic. Things such as teaching evolution rather than creationism in schools, separating church and state, and making gender equality the norm will help cultural and religious sexism. It is not going to work by smashing fundamental human rights and freedoms, as it will only mean that we come full circle on the issue.
Despite burqas and burkinis being a loss of personal freedom in itself, combating that with more loss of personal freedom is actually insane. It is like saving someone on fire by fully submerging them in water for five minutes. It is literally: “Yo, ladies, we order you to stop them telling you what to wear and demand you let us do it instead.”
Muslim groups reported an increase of verbal and physical violence against women in veils after the 2011 ban. A vigilante kind of justice that I’d guess (in as educated a way as possible) would not be as vigorously applied to a guy walking down the street wearing his bike helmet. It clearly promotes and legitimises Islamophobia and makes these women – already victims – into, er…victims again. The most repressed women, if not allowed to wear a burqa in public, just will not be allowed to go out in public – it solves nothing. How can a policy that literally forces a certain dress code on women be seen as feminist? That, quite frankly, be crazy France.