It has been two weeks now that I have been writing this article. Many conversations around the world are about France and the Burkini, and not in a good way. Since the multiplication of burkini bans in some cities, waves of hate, disgust and rejection have been spreading all across the country and the rest of the world.
All started on Saturday August 13th, on the beach of Sisco, a small village in Corsica (France), where violent arguments broke out between young Corsicans and members of the North-African Community. At the centre of the arguments was the fact that young men took pictures of women wearing burkini without permission, while they were enjoying the beach with their kids and husbands. Provocation after provocation, strong words after the other, the altercation resulted in light injuries for five people.
Since, the climate is very tense in Corsica, and it has spread to the national level.
It has actually been building up a lot since the terrorist attacks at Charlie Hebdo and the Bataclan last year. I have never been so scared for my country as I have been for the last year or so. And even though I have never been duped by the “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité” motto, I never thought Islamophobia would spread at this level and go this length in France, and across Europe.
Actually, since September 11th, 2001 the whole world has lean in even more towards xenophobia, especially towards Arabs, Muslims and North African people in general. But Islam is the constant. It is the main target for bigots, not only as a religion but as part of a culture. Everything related to Islam or Arabs has been given a bad connotation. And of course, no one can’t forget how every Arab and North-African people were, and still are, assimilated to terrorists every since 9/11, just because of their general appearance, skin colour, language or faith. Just looking foreign, dressing or even speaking differently is enough to attract heinous venom, violence and threats from bigots.
And in France’s case, islamophobia is very much part of our history. Slavery and Colonialism have largely built our nation, as well as its diversity and culture. But to this day, these two facts are also the elements that still divide us. A vast majority of French people have not accepted and/or learn about their History and inheritance. And by staying ignorant, these people are also neglecting the atrocities committed towards the African countries France has invaded, as well as their massive contributions to the French nation’s standing, wealth, prosperity and culture. France’s history is forever linked to Africa and there is no way around it. Nevertheless, our values and motto only seem to have some degree of importance and application at a diplomatic level or when we are abroad. They don’t stand inside the frontiers of France, and certainly don’t apply to the large portion of the population who is Muslim, and also not to Migrants. We only tolerate when we have to demonstrate tolerance. And even in these cases, we usually illustrate our small-mindedness.
And on top of that our political figures only seem to feed the core of this heinous wave, rising higher than ever. Their irresponsibility and lack of common sense are just baffling to me. With a political deadline coming soon, which is the next presidential election, the French political scene is more than ever a pool filled with self-serving maniacs. They are more preoccupied by antagonising and dividing their constituents than uniting them and pacify the tensions between communities. The Left and the Right parties always play the race and fear cards when it is election time. But they always forget to actually unite and defend their fellow citizens when they are hit with xenophobia and especially with islamophobia.
In France, we are always great with words but the weakest when it is time for actions. And I have never understood that. Neither can I understand the fact that François Hollande never stood up for the Muslims in France who are isolated from the debate. The President never defended the Muslims, nor did he condemned the violence done directly or verbally to them. Every politician supposedly wants to protect Women, especially Muslim Women with this ban. But what they actually do is instrumentalize Muslim Women and their bodies to attack Daech/Isis.
Women are always used as objects/tools in Men’s fights and battles, instead of being seen as allies. As Women they can speak their mind and voice their opinions freely so why not let them do exactly that. Why do some men feel the urge to suppress female voices when they should be telling their own stories and living their own choices. And of course, what I just said doesn’t annihilate the fact that some women are indeed under the influence of some sort of masculine figure, whether it is a father, husband or brother who threatens and suppress their liberties.
In the end, what I am trying to say is why don’t politicians and every one else for that matter, male or female, let each person, each woman decides what they want in life, what they want to wear or not. And lastly why ô why do so many people feel the need to assume that every Muslim woman isn’t free and can’t be in her right mind because she wears a burkini, a hijab, a burka, a chador, a niqaab, an abaya or whatever else. As if these thoughts were ever asked, out loud, to any other woman, that isn’t Muslim, and who wears bikini, short skirts or whatever else that now seem so decent to so many.
Instead, these ignorant people only succeeded in antagonizing Muslims not just in France but all over the world and spark rage and disgust in every other person who thinks it is unfair and abominable to ban Muslim women from wearing a burkini.
So naturally, I wasn’t even choked by what happened with the Burkini-Gate. I feel like it is more about distracting the French people from their actual problems, than it is about liberty or protecting Muslim women from some sort of patriarchal dictatorship. Banning the Burkini doesn’t help Women. It is simply degrading for Women and France as a nation. This ban belittles women and their liberty to choose. And as we (French) pride ourselves in being lovers of liberty, we are actually restricting Muslim women from exercising theirs.
Personally, I don’t find anything wrong with the burkini, quite the contrary. I find it practical and intelligent since it allows any women the freedom to care for their skin and preserve their modesty when wanted. Except from being looser and more comfortable than a diving suit, it is just a piece of fabric, an item of clothing which helps women enjoy the water and the sun more safely, than the Caucasian vision of what a swim suit should look like.
And by the way, let us not forget that swim suits used to look way different and « conservative » than nowadays, with more fabric. For example, in Europe during the Middle-Ages, women and men wore long shirts to public baths which were their version of pools. Also, until the early XXth century, bathing suits didn’t show much of women’s body and their legs were hardly shown. Afterwards, from year to year, and at the whims of fashion, the bathing suit gradually became shorter and shorter, showing more and more parts of the body, especially women’s. See for yourselves with the following photo gallery how they used to look like.
So in the end, bathing suits are only a question of fashion, tastes, levels of comfort and confidence and common sense if you are aware that the sun plays a major role in skin cancers and decay. As for many politicians, fashion designers, publicists and morons, bathing suits are a way to efficiently objectify women and their body, and of course to make huge chunks of money.
But I also want to add that I have actually, more like finally, understand from this very sad and nonsensical news that Decency and Secularism are concepts that so many people never learned about in school or by themselves, don’t and will never comprehend. I wish school was utilized better so that so many people wouldn’t be so ignorant and hurtful.
Notes on the Burkini / Burqini:
It was invented in 2003 by Aheda Zanetti, a Lebanese-Australian designer, who is also the founder of Ahiida Pty Ltd. As her website promotes, she « was inspired by watching her niece playing netball in a traditional Hijab / Veil to begin a search for sporting garments suitable for Muslim women. Unable to find anything which matched the demands for comfort and flexibility with the requirements for modesty, she designed and produced the first examples of AHIIDA’s now famous clothing lines BURQINI ™ / BURKINI ™ swimwear and HIJOOD ™ sportswear. »
A couple of days ago, Miss Zanetti gave an interview to The New York Times’s Mike Ives and spoke about the polemic surrounding her invention: « They’ve misunderstood the burkini swimsuit because the burkini swimsuit is freedom and happiness and lifestyle changes — you can’t take that away from a Muslim, or any other woman, that chooses to wear it. » And she went on to add that: « I wanted to introduce a full range of clothing to suit a Muslim woman — or any woman — that wanted a bit of modesty and wanted to participate in any sporting activities… ».
If you want to read Mike Ives’ article « Burkini Inventor Says Sales Have Skyrocketed on Heels of Controversy », you can find it here.