01 Sep Burkinis and Body Politics
“France shall be an indivisible, secular, democratic and social Republic. It shall ensure the equality of all citizens before the law, without distinction of origin, race or religion. It shall respect all beliefs.”
In light of the recent burkini ban enacted in 30 beachside provinces of France, the first article of the Republic’s constitution seems incredibly dichotomous with the increasingly rampant rise of Islamophobia in a country with the second largest Muslim population in Europe.
Since 1905 France has maintained a policy of Laïcité, generally translated as secularism wherein the church and state are supposedly separated and do not interfere with one another’s affairs. Yet France, the bastion of religious neutrality, seems to have forgotten its 111-year-old history of religious acceptance by barring a piece of swimwear that is not “respectful of good morals and secularism.”
Obviously this aggressive enforcement of “good morals” and the subsequent right-wing support it has elicited is not a representation of the general French opinion towards religious beach attire. In fact, widespread criticism of the ban has lead to a court suspension of any prejudicial treatment towards women wearing a burkini. However, this is not the first time France’s extreme secular ideals have dictated what religious people, specifically women, are allowed to wear. Following the 2011 burqa law, any woman wearing a full-face veil can be fined €150 or be forced to carry out public service duties.
Consequently, a society that prides itself on being open-minded and inclusive has become, instead, a country that panders to politicians who promote barely-concealed Islamophobia in the name of secularism to the point of extremism.
Yet David Lisnard, the mayor of Cannes who precipitated the burkini ban, stated that he implemented the law in order to protect women. “If a woman goes swimming in a burkini, that could draw a crowd and disrupt public order,” Lisnard told a French newspaper. “It is precisely to protect these women that I took this decision.”
In the wake of the recent attacks on Paris by extremist groups, Lisnard’s attempt to cover the face of his fear mongering with a thin veil of female empowerment is insulting. Rather than attempting to protect women, especially the increasingly marginalised group of women who identify as Muslim in these tumultuous times, he has instead implied that the only way to protect women is to police what they can and cannot wear. Forcing women to take their clothing off on a public beach is not empowerment, it is subjugation and pretending that this burkini ban is anything other than a political ploy is dangerously naive.