Have you ever been offended by a woman and her decision to cover her skin?

No? Me neither, but try telling that to French officials.

I’m sure you’ve seen the #burkiniban hashtag trending on Twitter recently. This was following reports and images of armed French police approaching a woman on a beach in Nice who was made to remove some of her clothing as it breached a ban on wearing the full-body Islamic swimsuit.

When I heard the statement that was first released by David Lisnard, the Mayor of Cannes, I was disgusted. He said that ‘access to beaches and for swimming is banned to anyone who does not have (bathing apparel) which respects good customs and secularism.’

‘Beachwear which 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.’

Thankfully, France’s top administrative court overturned the controversial ban in the resort town of Villeneuve-Loubet declaring that it ‘seriously and clearly illegally breached fundamental freedoms.’

The human rights lawyer who brought that case said he would take each town to court over their burkini bans. As it stands, bans on the burkini have also been lifted in Nice, Cannes, Frejus and Roquebrune.

I found Lisnard’s statement beyond ridiculous. These women who choose to wear the burkini, which in my opinion isn’t any different from a wet suit, shows no religious affiliation whatsoever. If anything, Lisnard’s comments are likely to fuel further tension and create further rifts within society.

As the ban is slowly lifted and people continue to show solidarity to those Muslim women who simply wish to go about their day to day without any hassle, we can’t ignore the elephant in the room here. This was a racist and sexist ban.

Yeah, I’m calling it out for what it is.

This ban also reveals a much bigger issue at play here which people have commented on – can Islam and the French way of life coexist? But I think we’re viewing this all wrong.

Across the world, Muslims have been able to integrate within western societies and in France this is no different. It is the government and people in power that are actively making it difficult for law abiding citizens. The question we should be asking is can France accept Islam and make an effort to seamlessly integrate Muslims within society rather than shunning them?

The attacks in Nice were awful, however it was ruled that ‘The emotion and the anxieties resulting from the terrorist attacks and especially the one committed in Nice on July 14, are not sufficient to justify legally the prohibition.’ – and so it shouldn’t be.

You can’t just stifle garments of clothes that women wear because you think covering up and concealing ones skin is somehow affiliated with terrorist groups. For years now, Muslim women in particular have been used as pawns for officials and people in power to push agendas and shape perceptions about an entire religious group. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard comments like “Muslim women cover up because they’re oppressed, because they’re forced to by their men, because they have no equal rights.”

Activist and friend, Aina Khan summed the underlying issue up perfectly:

‘Women’s bodies have always been used historically as battlegrounds by bigots to wage their wars on, and with the attacks that have happened in France it’s a perfect storm for bigots to set their agenda, to have this ammunition. Certain people think that Islam is inherently the problem, and so anything remotely associated with that – the hijab or a burkini – ‘Get rid of it! Amputate them from society,’ she said.

The truth is French officials are not any better than the ‘oppressors’ they talk about. At a recent beach party protest outside of London’s French Embassy, India Thorogood, one of the organisers made this point by saying: ‘It’s like they are trying to say that some men somewhere are sometimes telling women what to wear – but in response the French state are telling women what to wear. Two wrongs don’t make a right.’

This idea and excuse of liberating Muslim women needs to stop. How many times do we need to tell the wider world? We don’t need to be saved. We are not oppressed. The majority of us actually choose whether to wear a hijab or a burkini. Hell, I’ll probably invest in one myself! It’s a full body swimsuit. And furthermore if I want to cover my body up for whatever reason, I should have the freedom to do just so. This kind of discord is playing right into IS’s hands. They want western society to isolate Muslims, which then leave them as fair game and vulnerable to being coerced. Now, the majority of Muslims would not be so easy influenced, but feeling like you’re judged, discriminated against and an outcast to society can have dangerous repercussions. You never truly know how it’s going to affect individuals. So would you not rather try and build bridges to guarantee a strong, united nation?

Rather than put the blame on Muslims who simply want a peaceful life, let’s question why the French government is so intent on putting so much pressure to rid Muslim women of their identity and their faith. Surely we should be accommodating and tolerant of all faiths as long as there is no friction within society. This is the beauty of living in a multi-cultural society and is something that we were taught as children in school. Everyone brings something special and unique to the table. I’ve been in situations where people have such a negative perception of Muslims and yet after one conversation, their minds open up and they see how educated, understanding and vocal we are.

Solidarity works two ways here and if France would only open itself up to a dialogue with communities and citizens, so much could be achieved.

 

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