Strategic implications of the French burkini ban


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By Syed Tahseen Raza, who is Assistant professor in the Department of Strategic and Security Studies, Faculty of International Studies, Aligarh Muslim University

The poignantly disturbing image of armed policemen forcibly removing a piece of clothing called a burkini from a woman on a beach in France is a very sad reminder of the new state of an increasingly intolerant world.

An act that could echo only with the moral police of the despised theocracies of the world, this particular secular charade by French authorities is yet another low on the part of the liberal democracies in what has widely been perceived as a war of ideas between two supposedly different civilizations – a view revitalized since Sept. 11, 2001, when al-Qaida terrorists wreaked havoc in the United States. Curbing liberty and choice, resistance to diversity, aversion and fear for the other and violently forcing minorities to strictly conform to the “norm” set by the mainstream, these hallmarks of a totalitarian regime have slowly and silently crept their way into the land considered the epitome of “liberty, equality and fraternity.”

Causes of the ban
In this French brouhaha surrounding the burkini issue, at stake is not just the impact of this ordinance or its subsequent overruling on the immediate effected population, Muslim women, but it also essentially inflicts a severe dent if not an all-out rupture in the enlightenment project of modernity, of which France has been a strong admirer. The two argued legal points underlying the ban, namely overtly religious symbolism and the risk to public health and hygiene, are ludicrous at best, clearly indicating interpretative fallacy with closer scrutiny. Aware of the wider implications, the higher courts have rightly questioned the link of clothing to a dangerous effect on public health.

Coming in the immediate context of the Nice attack, this ban is bound to provide more fodder to extremists on both sides of the ideological fulcrum – far-right Christians and Islamic fundamentalists.

Realizing its pernicious consequences on the collective psyche of an entire community and its impact worldwide, the United Nations has been prescient enough to warn about the prospect of this ban fueling further intolerance and stigmatization of Muslims in France. Terming it a grave and illegal breach of fundamental freedoms, United Nations Human Rights Office spokesperson Rupert Colville emphatically underlined, “By stimulating polarization between communities, these clothing bans have only succeeded in increasing tensions and as a result may actually undermine the effort to fight and prevent violent extremism.” This could very apparently be seen in the behavior of the onlookers on the beach when the French policemen implementing the burkini ban were supported by a chorus of “Go back to where you came from,” “France for the French only” and other such slogans.

Feeding itself on the recent rightward shift in European politics, the generally popular argument in support of the ban is the irrational perception that whoever “willingly” comes to a different culture must conform to the prevailing norm.

Parallel with the existing rule in theocracies like Iran and Saudi Arabia is also very comfortably appealed contentedly. If after so many years of debate around the issue of multiculturalism in Europe, the leaders of the mainstream parties of France make clothing the issue of their electoral campaign, it is seriously a matter of grave concern. Moreover, the French claim of basing the ban on strict adherence to laicité, or secularism, doesn’t seemingly have much ground as the timing and the context of the injunction sufficiently prove otherwise.
Furthermore, a state with more than half of its national holidays conforming to a particular religion can’t be more blatantly hypocritical if it offers the principle oflaicité as a plea for the burkini ban.

Politicization of the human body
While it is tempting to sweepingly minimize the complexity of the prevailing predicament in the upsurge of growing Islamophobia worldwide and the strict adherence of France to laicité, it is urgently important not to miss the point that, even in the 21st century, human bodies have, once again, become the site of political contest. This is not just sad but regressive beyond condemnation. The notion of a virile prince coming to the help of the “damsel in distress” is somehow insidiously implicit in this burkini row.

“Their” women who are in distress need to be rescued has all along been one of the pertinent justifying principles of European colonialism, which the discerning work of Edward Said, “Culture and Imperialism,” has thoroughly explored.

Extending that same logic, the burkini needs to be forcibly removed because “we,” white men, could only know what is good for “them” – the uncouth, uncivilized and ill mannered. Former French Prime Minister Manuel Valls’ characterization of the burkini as a “symbol of enslavement of women” and the other aspiring candidate, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s, open remark that court rulings would be undone by parliamentary amendments are cases in point.

This emerging intolerance, which lets the French policemen forcibly remove the apparel of one’s choice publicly, is indeed a terrible manifestation of extreme racism and overt sexism women are subjected to.

In the loud din of men’s voices, women’s take, no matter how intellectually sound and legally tenable, fails to find takers. Mentions may be made of Osez Le-Feminism, the famous French feminist group which, for example, has vehemently criticized the anti-burkini ordinance, pointing out that on the pretext of potential religious exploitation, French authorities are actually forcing Muslim women “to live under religious oppression,” thus clearly suppressing their fundamental freedom.

Similarly, pointing out the uniqueness of this shrewdly designed apparel, Aheda Zanetti, the creator of the burkini, has fervently reiterated the liberating aspects of this piece of clothing.

Underlining that the burkini is not something that should be mistaken for oppression or an overt symbol of Islam, it is a garment to suit a modest person or someone who has skin cancer, or a new mother who doesn’t want to wear a bikini. However, under a misguided notion of ultra-superiority, evident all the more in terms of fashion and reminiscent of the erstwhile French colonial arrogance, these nuanced arguments about the burkini by feminists fail to break through the media noise.

In the atmosphere of ever-increasing religious extremism the world over, the banning of the burkini in France on the assumption that it symbolizes dangerous, overtly religious exceptionalism marks a really sad moment in its history. It not only distressingly highlights the deepening social fissures in French society but also underscores religious tensions prevailing worldwide.

This has all the indications of a future catastrophe as the post-Brexit U.K., Trump’s United States, the bleeding Middle East and resurgent Russia along with revitalized Iran, bruised Saudi Arabia and religious India all show signs of growing religious intolerance in different degrees. Emboldened by this French move, they may try this comfortably easy route of division, creating tactics leading to further sectarianism and enhanced xenophobia. There will be broader regional ramifications and global strategic implications from this French move, whose effects will be felt both intrinsically and globally.


42 replies

  1. You might get a kick out of a HOLLYWOOD movie called “For Richer or Poorer”. It’s a comedy about the AMISH dress code.

    And, Weird Al Yankovick Music video of the Amish Paradise.

    This is all nothing but a modern day Muslim FASHION SHOW.

    When in Rome, live as the Romans do, don’t create a NEW culture, and ya won’t have issues. It’s IMPOLITE not to have manners and respect for the NATION that you live in, wanting to change their culture to something that is FOREIGN to them. Assimilate instead. What you demand is scaring us, and due to 9/11, we damn well have a reason to be scared, and Islamaphobic. We didn’t start the fire. But you want to be accommodated?

    Omar is a great example in my country. She comes here as a refugee, then trashes our nation in an official capacity in our government, and it is alleged that she committed numerous crimes prior to being elected that are being investigated, and she wears that hat on her head…as a fashion show, certainly not out of respect to God. It’s all a show.

    Ed Chapman

    • nice joke. ‘we did not start the fire’. Goes into the category when the US says to Iran: ‘Why did you put your country so near to all our military bases’.

      • I am US Navy Vet from the 80’s and 90’s. Most Americans have no clue the difference between Iraq and Iran. All they know is that there is violence in that area, regardless of the US being there. That fire has been going on for thousands of years. The US is less than 300 years old. There is no way that we could have started that fire. We didn’t even exist when it was started.

        We didn’t start the fire is a BILLY JOEL song. You might want to hear it.

      • Americans have no idea of history. Once I met a US navy guy in Pukhet, Thailand. He asked ‘where are you from’ and I answered ‘Switzerland’. He responded ‘yes, Sweden, I have been there’. OK, without American weapons the Yemenis might get on each other with their swords. At least no innocent civilians would get killed. Thanks high tech American arms exports.

      • I’ve been to Phuket. 1984. Imagine my shock when I saw the tsunami. Anyway, America has a valid reason. As I said, Muslims have been harassing Americans from our founding. If you really LOVED life, then Muslims would stop the bloodshed, and there would be no weapons from America for the purpose of defense for the Muslim countries that you despise. Muslims used to hijack ships, and planes. Why? Terrorizing vacationers? Men, women, and children. For what? The cause of Allah? Do you know how insane that sounds? Kill for religion? Ya, ya, ya, I know, Catholics did it too. Well, I’m not Catholic, and their logic is just as stupid as yours is regarding killing over a religious disagreement.

      • You seem to have been a reader of The Muslim Times for a while. Have you not noticed that we promote ‘Love for All and Hatred for None’? That we are against terrorizing any one. That we are against killing for ‘religion’ ? It seems to me you should address your views somewhere else. Find some ‘daesh’ (Isis) web site may be?

      • Yes I do recognize your flavor of Islam that loves peace and promotes it. I’ve also said that you, and your co-blogger here are both nice. I am only a recent reader of your blog here. Your blog was a WordPress recommendation… And so…I clicked. I love studying religion. I’m a Christian thru and thru. I’ll never renounce Jesus. If you’ve seen my blog, I argue with Christians. I generally don’t bring my grievances to other beliefs, especially Jews, because I recognize that Jews don’t need Christians, but Christians need Jews. And your book hates both. That’s not a small insignificant matter that can be ignored, or brushed off, or swept under the carpet, or minimized, or telling us that we misunderstand. We fully understand that hate that Mohammed has for me, a Christian. We know. Children in your belief is taught this hate towards me, without evidence as to why. And children are young and impressionable, and gullible, and most important, vulnerable. Their hate for me is planted by Mohammed. All because my religions belief differs from yours. I’ll respectfully bow out now. Thank you for accommodating me in my rant. Believe what you want, I’ll believe in what I want, but tell Mohammed to stop demonizing us, whether we be Christians, Jews, or the many different flavors of Islam. Life is precious. Peace!

        Ed Chapman

      • wrong. Mohammad, peace and blessings be on him, never promoted hatred, nor ‘demonized’ you. You need to read verses in its context.

      • I have. You are not being honest to yourself. Do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends… Fight those who believe not in God and the last day… many more, altho I know you can also site contradictory verses. Oh, and something about pigs and swine and apes, let’s not forget. But it’s nice to know you have selective memory.

      • The do not take the Jews and Christians for friends relates to the times when they are at war against the Muslims. Even now, yes, I would advise Saudi Arabia not to take the Christians (Trump etc) and the Jews (Israelis, Mossad) as friends. Other verses of the Qur’an however also state that some Christians are very good and therefore can be friends. No, I do not have selective memory. I just read all in its context and not pick out verses that suit me, but look at the overall picture.

      • This isn’t about Trump at all. And if this is about Israel, then instead of Trump, go back to the league of nations. Israel belongs to Jews, not Palestinians.

      • I believe you when you agree that America belongs to the native Americans. Well, not quite, because most Jews came from converted Europeans and never had any roots in Palestine. See ‘The Thirteenth Tribe’ and other similar studies. (you can google it).

      • Kuwait calls America for help because Iraq invades Kuwait. The Saudis gave permission for America to have a base on their property. That made you mad. So you side with Al Qaeda in that regard. We had many Muslims help us and we helped Muslims. But this is your sentiment towards we Christians that support Israel. Very interesting.

      • both. and, again, can we stop arguing for argument’s sake only?

      • I would say first of all a friend let others live, without coming from far away to destabilize and destroy.

      • in Islam, what constitutes a war with Christians and Jews? What line must a Christian and Jew cross before a Muslim kills him in an act of war? Is that when the words swine and apes is invoked? Or is that already what we are considered, without a war?

      • look at what is going on now. Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya … but yes, you do not see the USA’s hand in it at all. (I have been there and seen it).

      • Why did Muslims brutally harass American commercial sailors some 200 years ago, other than being Christians? Was that a war, too? Americans in your Muslim territory just like as an American base in Saudi Arabia? We have a history with Muslims that isn’t good… friend.. oh, that preaches peace with all. Hah!

      • Why did the CIA overthrow a democratically elected government in Iran in 1953 (and many others elsewhere). But actually I do not appreciate arguing for arguing’s sake.

      • Zero Christian churches in Saudi Arabia, but you want mosques worldwide. Then demand that France accommodates. That’s interesting

      • again, dear Ed, you confuse us with the Saudis. We would promote churches for all the foreign workers in Saudi Arabia. And … there are churches in practically all other Muslim countries. In Jordan I saw several new ones being built. A Syrian Orthodox Cathedral opened just near one of my residences.

      • Your last comment should be redirected to the likes of your other flavors of Islam, such as the Taliban, Al Queda, Hezbollah, Muslim Brotherhood, and the like. They don’t have your wisdom. Let them know that.

      • the Catholics were reactionary to the expanding Islamic caliphate from the 8th century on wards. All the greatest ancient Christian countries/regions (Egypt, Asia minor, Greece, northern Africa, Somalia etc)were captured by the expanding, geopolitical wave of Islamists and the rest (Russia, Poland, Austria, Italy, Spain, France, India, China, etc)were under constant attack from the Muslims and pirates looking for areas to conquer for the slave trade. So sick of the liberal colleges and media rewriting history. the anti catholic speech is cultivated by the muslims and used by the liberals as they do not agree with Christian teaching, and used as a gues to divide and sow dissent in western culture. This is your answer, all these people are liars.

      • Well, I’m not liberal by any means, and I’ve heard your side, too, but ya can’t dismiss the inquisitions that took place. I don’t dismiss your explanation at all.

      • the Catholics did more for western society than any other culture. We are western culture. Latin , music, universities, governance, teaching methods, mathematics, art, spirituality, modern philosophy, romance, writing, intellectualism, architecture, science, medicine. The inquisitions were again reactionary to the immoral s that were going on and only happened in one area of Spain.

      • They didn’t do anything for me. I don’t even consider myself a protestant. I disagree with both LUTHER and Calvin, including Catholics. I’m a non-denomination Christian. I don’t like being dictated what I have to believe. I read the book, and make my own conclusions. Easy. Myself, I think the Jews did a lot, and I know Catholics have a problem with the Jews, just like the Muslims do. For different reasons, but, problems none-the-less, like Jews killing Jesus…eh? Eh? Ya!

      • I do not think Muslims have a problem with the Jews, now-a-days Muslims have a problem with the Israelis who steal Palestinian lands, nothing to do with Jews as a religion.

      • I used to think like that, that i could just read and make decisions. Most books, journals and media have a massive political objective. If you go talk you young people now many are brainwashed into this stuff. being woke, hating christianity, saying trannies are better, it is all about love, marriage and traditions not needed, homosexuality is normal and not a lifestyle choice, no children because of global warming, what a load of rubbish. This is the devil speaking. Notice how this rafiq constantly tries to paint muslims as victims. This is just another form of gender and identity politics, talk shit long enough people believe it. He is just like all the rest , trying to create divisions and aligning with liberal politics as they leftist are so stupid and believe media and university professors. Being anti christian is not what is needed right now. muslims lump all christians in one pile and call us the infidels.

      • oho. Thanks for pointing out my apparent errors. I will try to correct myself. I paint Muslims as victims? I dont think so. I am just pointing out that those who take the 0.0001 percent of Muslims (the violent extremist criminals who may use Islamic slogans but are totally outside of what I know as Islam) as those representing true Islam. Got my point? Trying to create divisions? I was not aware of that. We are active in inter-religious dialogue and are not trying to create divisions.

  2. What do you expect from the so called civilised French? They must learn to respect, protect and tolerate those who are different. The number of Muslims is on the increase in all western countries because of never ending immigration, high birth rate and conversion. There will never be an end to immigration because of low birth rate and ageing population. Without the constant flow of immigrants and refugees their society and economy would bleed to death.

    West must to tolerate and respect those who are different. During colonial days, British did not follow local customs or culture. They didn’t exactly “go native”. They even forced the native Americans and native Australian to adopt all the evils of their culture and customs. They are still the underdogs of American and Australian societies. At least Australian Prime Minister apologised to the natives for their evil deeds. Brits living in Spain and France don’t even bother learning the language of the new adopted country. Frankly suggesting that people don’t want to become “British” they should move elsewhere is extremely irritating. Immigrants are in UK because they are needed, it was never an act of charity. Without migration, British economy and society will bleed to death. British culture and customs will undoubtedly change as it has for millennium due to immigration. I am not quite sure why Brits would be worried about that.

    Of course Multiculturalism has failed. The Irish hate the English. The Scots hate the English & the Welsh hate The English. So what do you expect from people from other nations. Multiculturalism means different cultures living side by side, separately. We live in a multicultural world of mono-cultural countries. If only England becomes multicultural and other countries don’t, then the result will be a less multicultural world. Right next to the Over ground Station, a peek inside the Railway Tavern pub will reveal white locals in the front, black locals in the back room. This segregation is self-enforced; both parties seem to prefer it that way. The sight of such retailed segregation is uncomfortable, and off-putting. It inevitably reminded me of the ”separate but equal” facilities of late-Jim Crow 60s America.

    Many comments claim that the immigrants don’t integrate. Aside from the little interactions mentioned, how can integration occur? Doesn’t it need to be 2-way? How many of us are pleased to accept hospitality and gifts of exotic dishes offered by the ‘immigrants’ and yet don’t reciprocate? Difficult to have a truly ‘multicultural’ society when the core belief of many of those who inhabit one of those cultures is that all the others should be eradicated.

    CHRISTIANS should be encouraged to marry Muslims as a way of tackling Islamophobia, a senior peer claimed today. Lord Scott, a former Supreme Court Judge, cited his own family – in which two of his four children married Muslims – as an example of how interfaith families can thrive. The peer, who sits as a crossbencher in the Lords, made the comments during a debate on how to improve relations between the Muslim community and other faith groups in the UK. He said: “Of my two sons one has become a Muslim and of my two daughters one of those has become a Muslim, and I have 12 lovely grandchildren, seven of whom are little Muslims…”I do just wonder that if an improvement is needed between the faith groups, one way of promoting that might be to encourage interfaith marriages.”

    Whilst I agree that you have an immigration problem in this country, I don’t think that this is your main problem. Your main problem is the disintegration of the family unit and the loveless binge drinking environment that your children are growing up in! NEVER in my life have I seen another country where people so seldom give their children a hug and a kiss like in this country and NEVER in my life have I seen another country where there are so many children from different fathers growing up in single parent households! Before you tackle the immigration problem (at least the immigrants LOVE their kids) you should first look at yourselves!

    Why complain when it’s the British who first migrated into other lands enslaving those people? When it is a question on immigration, the feelings are so strong. I wonder why. Serves you right! Britain! When the British colonised the world, it was ok. But now when people from the former colonies and from other countries come to Britain, its not ok?

    Look into history and then you can cry because what goes around comes around. Don’t see why people have such a problem with mass immigration? It enriches our culture and boosts the economy! We have to stop looking at these people as immigrants and think of them as human beings. The immigrants are not to blame because they were invited and welcomed here by our successive government. We have quite large Spanish , French and Italian communities in Brighton and I believe it really enhances the place and adds to diversity of the City. Globalisation is here to stay. Britain colonised & some would say civilised half the world. It’s called Karma. Not so long ago British people colonized Asia, living like kings while locals suffering to no end. At least, these migrants do not enslave the Britons, so stop whining please.

    • you are using people’s ignorance of history and their christian beliefs to get white people to submit to expanding caliphates. This is the definition of racism, intolerance, bigotry and hate speech.

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