Burkini Ban 2016
by Hana Khan
In the summer of 2016, around fifteen French towns implemented a ban on the burkini – modest swimming costume that many Muslim women wear – following an act of terror in which a lorry mowed down eighty-four people on a promenade in Nice. 64% of French people are in favour of the burkini bans, while 30% described themselves as ‘indifferent’. So why are the majority of people in France against women wearing extra clothes on the beach?
Reasons given by the men in authority for the ban:
- Mayor Lionnel Luca cited unspecified ‘hygiene reasons’ for banning full-body swimwear. (What exactly might they be?)
- A tribunal in Nice that upheld the ban in Villeneuve-Loubet on Monday ruled that it was ‘necessary, appropriate and proportionate’ to prevent public disorder. (Why? What might ladies in swimwear on the beach do exactly? Throw a beach ball? Drop their ice cream??)
- “The burkini is not a new range of swimwear, a fashion,” he said. “It is the expression of a political project, a counter-society, based notably on the enslavement of women.”(If the burkini is a tool of oppression, why are so many Muslim women pleased that they can hang out on the beach?)
- Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally political party, who subsequently ran for president in 2017, claimed the ‘soul of France is in question’, writing in a blog: “France does not lock away a woman’s body.” (Who is she referring to when she says ‘France’? Does that mean you cannot be French unless you wear revealing clothes? Or does that mean that men have the right to view women’s bodies, and women must not cover up their bodies so men can see them? Who exactly has the right to tell a woman what she can wear?)
Arguments against the ban
- It’s unfair. Some rights groups have said the new laws amount to the ‘collective punishment’ of Muslims following the terror attacks and amid friction over immigration and the refugee crisis.
- It’s a violation of their rights. Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy eloquently said, “…coercing a woman out of the burka instead of enabling her to choose is an act of violence, humiliation and cultural imperialism.”If a Muslim woman does not want to bathe in conventional swimwear, aren’t you excluding her from participating in society and curtailing her right to enjoy being on the beach?
- It will radicalise people who aren’t radical by making them feel marginalised and discriminated against. Some proponents of the ban went so far as to claim that the burkini is a ‘uniform that is the symbol of Islamic extremism.’ Since when did wearing a burkini, in most cases a loose fitting nylon version of a wetsuit, become an act of allegiance to terrorist movements? What the French government is really banning from the beach is not a type of clothing, per se, but a type of person ― a Muslim woman. By excluding Muslims, these bans push Muslims into the arms of radicalisers.
- It’s racist/islamophobic and divisive. Instead of promoting unity in the country, the burkini bans are a ‘racist excuse’ to target Muslims.
- It’s misogynistic. Ironically, and blindly, the Mayor of Cannes and the extremist secularists in parts of France and Europe are acting no differently, in this instance, than ISIS in Syria, where enforcement and regulation of women’s clothing and bodies is mandated by men acting in the name of the state.
What are Muslim women saying?
- They highly doubt that you’ll find any extremists wearing burkinis and ‘chilling on the beach with their kids, having a swim and playing with sand.’
- If the burkini is a terrorist tool, do Marks & Spencer or House of Fraser know that their attempt to raise profits and exploit a gap in the over-saturated clothing market is selling and promoting allegiance to ISIS?
- Does the ban only refer to Muslims wearing modest swimwear? What about non-Muslim women in Burkinis, or anyone in a wetsuit?
- “If I rocked up on the beach wearing a diving suit and a swimming head cap, if they knew I was Muslim, they would tell me to get off,” said Muslim youtuber.
- “And you wonder why the French youth or the British youth or Muslim youth in Europe in general feel excluded or they feel scared or have confusions about their identity,” said one person interviewed.
- What hurts the most is the silence of fellow mainstream and ‘Western’ feminists, whose voices would have a significant impact on how these issues are framed and articulated. Their solidarity would mean so much to their Muslim sisters across Europe and the world.
Who actually wears the burkini?
Burkinis are not a symbol of extremism for the vast majority of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims. Instead, they’re just a fashion trend designed to serve the needs of Muslim women and women of other faiths who want coverage while they’re hanging out on the beach. Nothing more.
It’s important to note that no one religion has a lock on the modest clothing market or the burkini specifically. Aheda Zanetti, who invented the burkini, is a Lebanese woman living in Australia, and claims that over 40% of burkini sales are from non-Muslim women. “The Jewish community embraces it,” she told Politico. “I’ve seen Mormons wearing it. A Buddhist nun purchased one for all of her friends. I’ve seen women who have issues with skin cancer or body image, moms, women who are not comfortable exposing their skin—they’re all wearing it.”
As some of the models have UV protection of 50+, the market may overlap with those who wear the extra coverage sun protection layers swimmers have added in recent years. “I bought this swimsuit not for religious reasons, but because I get sunburn so much! I needed something more full coverage and I didn’t want to be wearing a wet suit to the beach! I like this swimsuit because the hijab is detachable, it’s cute, and it covers me,” wrote one reviewer.
One 80-year-old reviewer on Amazon praised the swimwear’s function of covering her varicose veins.
The Nice Attack
The attack which was used as the reason cited for banning the burkini had nothing to do with Islam or terror.
The attack was carried out by Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, who has been described as ‘mentally unstable’, with a tumultuous personal life which included drug use and consumption of violent online content. Law enforcement examination of his phone revealed what Sky News described as a ‘string’ of relationships, including an affair with a 73-year-old man. He was in the process of a divorce, had financial difficulties and had been previously fired from his truck driving job for being asleep at the wheel. He had never prayed, or fasted, or shown any signs of being religious, and he had no known links to any terrorist organisations. He was a deranged individual who happened to have been born in a Muslim family. And besides, what correlation is there between people wearing the burkini on a beach, and people who want to kill people in a lorry?
[potential for debate on the ban/whether governments have the right to make this kind of ruling/etc.]
Written by Ayesha and Hana Khan in 2016