Thursday, 25 August 2016

The Burkini Ban: Misogynistic, Islamophobic Nonsense.

The picture that has been seen all over the world, of police officers forcing a Muslim woman to remove her "burkini."

We all know that France has, in recent times, been subjected to some horrific terrorist atrocities.  In the last twelve months alone, 219 people have been killed in various incidents, most claimed as the handiwork of the Islamic Extremist group, ISIS.  

Our hearts have broken for France on a frighteningly regular basis, as the country has witnessed stabbings, shootings and bombings, all supposedly in the name of Islam.  We've wept for the men, women and children lost in the most terrible of ways.  We've held vigils, we've changed our Facebook and Twitter profile pictures in support and we've offered our thoughts, prayers and consolations.  That feeling of empathy and solidarity is only right in the face of the atrocities France has suffered.  

But my heart has broken not only for the victims of these warped "soldiers," but for the billions of innocent Muslims who, time and time again, have been forced to remind us that the noisy, violent minority does not speak for the religion as a whole.  We've seen Mosques attacked in the wake of terrorism, as though harming peaceful Muslims in prayer somehow makes the situation "even."  We've seen people who may not even be Muslim, but, to the ignorant, simply look like one (whatever that means), having abuse shouted at them in the street.  It's worth reminding ourselves - countless times, if necessary - that the vast majority of Muslims are just normal people who have shed just as many tears over the acts of barbarism carried out in the name of their faith as anyone else has.  

And yet, the Islamic backlash continues and now it appears to be reaching a new level.

Getty Images

Several French cities have now imposed a ban on the "burkini" - an outfit that allows Muslim women to remain covered up on the beach, in accordance with their religious beliefs.

France is a secular country and views religion as a private matter.  In an incident which has now been seen all over the world, a Muslim woman on a beach in Nice was recently forced by armed police to remove her burkini and appeared to be issued with an on-the-spot fine.  A second Muslim woman has come forward to say that she was also issued with a fine for "not wearing an outfit respecting good morals and secularism."  Witnesses to this incident claimed that people nearby began shouting "go home" at the woman and her family, and applauded the officers involved.

A tribunal in Nice recently referred to the burkini ban as being a "necessary, appropriate and proportionate" response to the terrorist threat the country has been under for the last few years.  


The burkini was invented in Australia as a means of Muslim women being able to adapt to Australian beach culture, without sacrificing their religious beliefs to do so.  And yet this ban on the garment (which Germany has also apparently adopted) is only going to make the Muslim community feel more like outsiders.  The very opposite of what it was created for.

France has already issued a ban on women and girls wearing headscarves in schools and there are proposals to extend this to the country's universities as well.  Again, how does this stop terrorism?

In France, their secular system of government is supposed to ensure equality, yet over there, it's illegal to collect data about ethnicity or religion.  That means that there are no official statistics concerning the Muslim population over there, including with regards to jobs, police searches, or anything else.  At a time when a minority community are being stigmatised, they have nothing to back up the way they are being treated.  All that does is further ostracise those people, who then believe that nobody is interested in how their lives are being affected by the sanctions imposed on them, or the judgements made against them by those who ignorantly tar the entire religion with the same brush.

And that is exactly what ISIS want.

One of the easiest ways to brainwash people is to see them being badly treated - or at least, treated differently - and to convince them that it's because they are hated.  That those in power and the people they meet on the street hate them.  That they are the enemy.

By banning a garment that was created in order for Muslim women to feel comfortable enjoying the beach alongside their religious and non-religious counterparts, we are further stigmatising a group that has been stigmatised enough already.

Clothing alone does not make a terrorist. 

And it's not even only Muslim women who are wearing these outfits, anyway.  Nigella Lawson famously wore one whilst on holiday in Australia, saying that she wanted to ensure her skin was covered and protected from the sun.  Indeed, the original creator of the burkini, Aheda Zanetti, claims that 40% of her customers are not Muslim.  They're simply women (and indeed, in a few cases, men) from various religious backgrounds, who want to remain covered up on the beach.

And that brings us to a whole other argument.

Are we really, seriously, in 2016, still quite literally policing what women are allowed to wear in public?!  I mean, really?!

Women have, throughout the ages, been told what they can and can't wear.  A few decades ago, we were chastising women for not wearing enough on the beach, because it was deemed unseemly and unladylike for women to wear bikinis.  Now, we're slapping them with fines for covering up too much.  Can anyone else see the blatant hypocrisy, or is it just me?!  Please tell me it's not just me...

The literal policing of women's bodies is not acceptable.  It is not acceptable for Irish women to have to travel to the UK for abortions, because they're not allowed to have them in their own country.  It is equally unacceptable for a Muslim woman in any country, to be told what she is and isn't allowed to wear.  What a woman puts on in the morning is entirely up to her.  

Many women wear the burkini because it makes them feel safe.  Whether that's because it provides religious safety, or simply because it covers their body and makes them feel safe from the over-sexualised and too-often-critical gaze women's bodies are subjected to doesn't matter at this point in the discussion.  The fact is: if a woman chooses to cover her body on the beach, it is never, ever anyone's right to dictate otherwise.  Forcing a woman to take off layers of clothes, with everyone watching (some jeering) and issuing her with a fine for not being "appropriately dressed" is the kind of misogynistic nonsense that should have been dead and buried last century.

Banning the burkini is not going to end terrorism.  It's not going to make Muslim women feel safe, or accepted.  It is going to force us to look at ourselves and the way we treat others.  I can only hope we learn from this ridiculousness and aim to change the situation, before we make it even worse.

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