France’s recent ‘burkini ban’ has ignited a wildfire of discussion regarding the extent to which it was positive or negative legislation.
Although the ban has now officially been overturned, the debate surrounding it is far from settled; many mayors and high ranking government officials are still maintaining their support for it. The situation in France has had a kind of ripple effect, with the discussion now opening up in other countries around Europe and the world. In Britain, it’s manifested through keyboard warriors in online forums, tabloid articles and even a national poll suggesting that half of Britain’s population would like to impose a similar ban in our own shining example of a progressive, liberal and freedom-giving member of the modern world.
Below are 5 reasons why I am genuinely confused as to how this can even be a debate.
1. It's a wetsuit, with a swimming cap. Don't be Islamophobic. To say that a subtle variant of the same clothing which has been used for so many years by both men and women everywhere is an affront to western culture is frankly ridiculous. Full-body coverage has never been a problem, until Muslim women started wearing it as part of a religious observance and dedication to modesty, as opposed to solely seeking protection from water.
2. If you stop a woman on the street and force her to take her clothes off, you’re a criminal. Why is it that if you do the same on the beach, you’re a forward-thinking, sensible western liberal? There really isn’t a difference, and to me at least, this is blindingly obvious. For a woman to be confronted by armed police and ordered to publicly remove her clothes, whether they are overgarments, or she is on a beach, and for this to result in people not just being apathetic, but even stubbornly in favour of such humiliation is disconcerting at the very least.
3. Some might say the issue is not with the actual Burkini but with what it symbolises, and how accepting it may be to move towards legitimising or condoning some of the more negative connotations of ‘Islamic dress’, and how it might be imposed in some parts of the world. Nobody is saying that the countries that force women to cover up are right to do so, at the same time, however, our own culture that we are holding onto so dearly and defending against the threat of modesty is not much better. We do not hold a monopoly on the definition of what is rational or what is right. This is especially relevant in our ‘western society’ where both women and men, even teenagers, are being body-shamed daily through societal norms and expectations, an ironic example of which, in fact, is the glamourisation of being ‘beach-body’ ready. Forcing a woman to cover up is wrong. Forcing her to uncover is not much better, in fact, it’s not much different at all.
4. Regardless of your opinion, simply entertaining and elongating this debate and its intrinsically repressive nature is fuelling, not combatting, extremist ideology. It has opened up opportunities for extreme patriarchal thinkers to express their condemnation of women being out in public or on a beach at all, and widened their corridors of influence by reinforcing a ‘them’ and ‘us’ narrative. To say that certain women should not be allowed on the beach is to unite with the very extremists this debate purports to be tackling.
5. This polarising notion of ‘them’ and ‘us’ is especially worrying due to the perceived legitimacy of hostility it invites. Saying ‘they should dress like us if they want to live here’ is exactly the kind of sentiment that drives people - who may already feel vulnerable or alienated - away from cohesion, coexistence or integration. The premise and very nature of the argument suggests that no matter what they wear, they will still never be us; accepted as part of a whole, and national community. Consequently, it’s quite irresponsible and indeed irrational to rub salt into the wounds of division, and then complain about the disease getting worse.
I believe that there is a desperate need for objective and sensible analysis before making knee-jerk opinions, decisions and policies that allow the disease to debilitate us entirely.