In Europe, the nation of France has suffered and been victimised more than most by the extremities of the Islamic faith. The attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in January 2015, the systematic murdering of Parisians in November of the same year and the most recent ‘truck ramming’ in Nice on Bastille Day are three horrific moments in France’s recent history which epitomise it’s struggle with Islamic extremism. These three events claimed 233 victims.
In reaction to these events, France has justifiably been in a state of emergency since November 2015 which was extended for an additional six months at the end of July this year. In accordance with this decision, measures have been taken by French authorities to ban the ‘burkini’, an item of clothing worn by female Muslims when sun-bathing in public spaces. The ban has most recently been imposed in Nice, although it originated in the town of Villeneuve-Loubet where it has since been replicated in other southern coastal towns. To quote an article I read in the Guardian this morning, the authorities of Nice justified the ban because it “overtly manifests adherence to a religion at a time when France and places of worship are the target of terrorist attacks”.
So there you have it. In a country which according to ‘Fact Tank’ has a population of 4.7 million Muslims, there are discriminatory measures imposed to dissuade prominent features of the Islamic faith. The irony stands in that France was and still is considered the great founder of democracy.
In the Guardian article to which I have just referred (the link is below) you will see two images; the first is of a woman carelessly lying on a beach apparently relaxing (note: she is wearing a ‘burkini’) and the second is her surrounded by four police officers who seemingly inform her that she needs to remove the banned garment. Now it is the second image that is most harrowing. As the woman removes her burkini to the gawping stares of her fellow sun-bathers, she is probably not only intimidated by these four officers but she is also breaking an avowed and personally upheld religious belief.
She does not pose a threat to her surroundings, nor does she appear to provoke or antagonise either the officers or the people on the beach. Her burkini does not have an Islamic State flag printed on the back, nor does it spurt propaganda criticising the French nation or it’s people. Yet she is isolated and ostracised on that beach as ‘different’ compared to the other French sun-bathers, some of whom assert that she should “go home”.
The actions of Islamic State affiliates in France are unequivocally inhumane. But the worry is that these bouts of barbarism by a minute proportion of the Muslim faith are the oxygen for racist and dogmatic views which are becoming so increasingly popular in Europe.
It is this sort of reaction by the authorities which suggests it is okay to stigmatise and stereotype; which says that the burkini is an offensive item of clothing, and yes it does represent the Islamic extremists our nation is fighting against. The matter-of-fact statement by the Nice authorities only exemplifies the attitude that obviously the burkini is somehow equated with the terrorist attacks.
The reality is that democracy equates to freedom and with that comes the ability to express oneself however you please. The other, but scarier reality, is that when inherently repressive policies like the ‘burkini ban’ are imposed, the ignorant among us treat it as the opportunity to be openly more discriminatory. “The government thinks burkini’s are offensive, so they must be!” What about the Muslim families whereby a mother is denied the opportunity to bathe with her children in the sea because of her clothing, whilst a French woman could simultaneously swim and sun-bathe naked free from police interference? Who is to say which is more offensive to the general by-stander?
The central problem is that the ban on burkini’s makes a sweeping generalisation that suggests Islamic garments are associated with issues affecting national security, thus justifying the ban in relation to national protection. This type of legislation allows for citizens to comfortably forget the importance of differentiating the moderate Muslim from the fundamentalist, or seeing the internal strife within the Islamic faith between these two strands. All it leaves is a simplistic and sound justification that Islam, generally speaking, is offensive and nothing more.
I admire the woman’s bravery because she committed herself to a personal and religious devotion of covering herself, even if it was to no avail. But I sympathise with her because, even as a Muslim, she too has become a victim of Islamic extremism originating from the terror committed by those that call themselves ‘true’ Muslims.