There has been worldwide turmoil around the news of the French banning Muslim women wearing a burkini at the beach. This week, the French Prime Minister Manuel Valls blasted the burkini as, “a political sign of religious proselytising” in the wake of recent acts of terrorism in France. This ban has been implemented in 15 towns across France including Cannes and Nice.
Recently, a picture has emerged of police officers at a beach in Nice asking a Muslim woman to remove parts of her outfit as part of the ban. This woman was then given a fine for not abiding by the French regulations and by wearing an outfit that does not respect ‘good morals and secularism’. When this news surfaced, a public uproar was triggered by the actions of the police officers and Frances controversial ban. Many were quick to dismiss the French police officers’ behaviour as disgusting for asking a woman to remove clothing, which she had the right to wear, in full public view. The fact that members of the police force had to ask a woman to take off part of her attire in public postulates that the French police saw her clothing as some form of threat. Moreover, being given a fine for not adhering to the ‘good morals and secularism’ implies that, France wants every single one of its citizens to assimilate to the French culture.
One would think in this day and age, one would be able to exercise their freedom of religion and culture. But not in France. France takes pride in their secularism. In a utopian world, their ideal secular society would be one that is free of influence from any church or creed. Over the years, this idea of French secularism has evolved to mean the prohibition of expressing religious preferences. Hence, in regards to wearing the burkini, one can assume French nationalists would not tolerate this type of behaviour as it evidently shows preference to Islam. Rooting his opinion in the French secularism, PM Manuel Valls hold the view that Islam is a patriarchal religion which enslaves women by making them dress in a certain way; hence, he wants to ban burkinis to emancipate Muslim women from their subjugation to Islam.
This was not the first time France had to reign in Muslim values to match French secularism. France has previously put a ban on full-face Islamic veils being worn in public; France was the first European country to implement this ban. This ban was upheld by the French because in their view, these type of veils oppressed women, and the French wanted their citizens to be rooted in French secularism. However, similar to the burkini ban, this ban on full-face headscarves triggered some to believe it was a violation of Muslim women’s liberty of religion and their freedom on expression. Moreover, not only were Muslim headscarves banished but also, other evidently religious symbols were banned from French state schools in 2004. Subsequently, one can infer this idea of the French restricting religious liberties and making their citizens conform to their idea of secularism started early on and, not merely from the recent burkini ban.
From a feminist perspective, there are arguments for and against the ban. Those who agree with him will adhere to the notion that Muslim women should be free to express themselves as they wish without being tied down to the law of their religion. On the other hand, other feminists will be discontent with PM Manuel Valls’ burkini ban by claiming that women should not be forced to wear revealing attire while on the beach to simply please the eyes of others; hence, they will believe this ban evidently implies that women are still seen as sexual objects. The public can also argue if the burkini is being banned then why not ban wearing wetsuits, as surely, they are very similar beach attire? Nonetheless, those who disagree, especially feminists, with the French Prime Minister will hold the view that France is a patriarchal country by targeting a vulnerable group of women and forcing them to dress in a certain way to satisfy the morals and secularism of France.
However, looking at this ban from a different perspective one could ask, is this ban France’s way of acting on the terrorist acts that have occurred in their country? If so, one can infer that associating the burkini with terrorism is rather bizarre as it is merely a piece of clothing that women wear to respect the morals of their religion. Some may class this as Islamophobia as it is only Muslims, a group of ethnic minorities in France that are being affected. As French mayors started to implement the burkini ban, many Muslim women felt that they were being target in an unjust way, as well as their religion. On the other hand, many nationalists of France will agree with the ban as their utmost concern will be to cease anything and everything that is associated with terrorism. Subsequently, one can assume that French nationalists will not only believe that the burkini goes against their idea of secularism but, it is also seen as a suspicious piece of clothing. Nevertheless, the real question is: is banning the burkini going to help tackle terrorism?
Nonetheless, there has been a court ruling from France’s top administrative court stating that the burkini ban is illegal. The court ruled the ban to be illegal as it was deemed to be a violation of Muslim women’s liberties and freedoms. Despite this court ruling, some French mayors still impose this burkini ban in their respective areas which allows police officers to formally stop women who are evidently wearing burkinis on the beach and, will have the right to fine these women. These contrasting opinions on the ban and the notion that the rule of law should be respected suggest, there is internal conflict within the French state. So, what does the notion of some French mayors refusing to lift the ban in their area mean? Some may say Islamaphobia while others may speculate this to be a nationalistic agenda to maintain the identity of French secularism and, to assimilate all citizens to the French culture.