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Failure of French Secularism to Guarantee Genuine Individual Freedoms

By Imane Abou-Said

By Imane Abou-Said

Agadir – Pictures of a woman surrounded by policemen forcing her to take down her long sleeved dress, also known as a “burkini,” have surfaced the net and people are not happy about it.

On Tuesday August 23, 2016, a woman was forced to strip down of her “Islamic outfit” by French policemen in Nice. The incident happened on the beach near the site of the latest terrorist attack perpetuated by a driver who caused the death of 86 people.

Intellectuals all over the world expressed their anger for the clear violation of freedom and condemned this act, calling it a “shameful move.” It is truly devastating to see a human being, regardless of her ethnicity, religion or sex, being bullied by four armed policemen wearing bulletproof vests, just for the simple fact that they decided that their clothes allegedly don’t abide by the values of secularism.

France has been claiming that freedom of choice is one of the notions the country is built on. So does this act hint that there are rights reserved for France’s “chosen population” only? France has been often criticized for exercising forms of racism against its Muslim, Arab and African communities as they seem to channel the years of occupation once again. Questions have been raised about the logic behind French authorities’ decision as people like James O’Brien criticized their act by mentioning the backlash that would have happened if Nuns were forced to do the same thing.

This incident occurred just after the “Guardian” published that France is banning the burkini or any outfit that covers the head and the body on its territory after expressing major fear amid terrorist attacks. However, this move does not go hand in hand with the motto “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité,” (Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood).” This symbol derived from the French Revolution, seems more like a façade rather than a belief.

The internet community wasn’t thrilled by what happened as many pointed to this act as being the real form of oppression. Throughout the years, women were often told what to wear and how they should look. Societies often dictated various regulations on the way they should dress. Women should not dress in a “risky way” because they might give the “wrong impression”. They can show skin but not too much skin. They should cover up but not to the extent of looking oppressed. If they don’t abide by that, we will force them to!

The real issue here, at least the way I see it, is not whether Burkini should be banned or not. It is the importance of making people aware of the vitality of personal choice and freedom. Women are free to choose what they want to wear without feeling continuously at risk or ashamed of themselves. France has closed the door for integration and begun a new form of dictatorship because secularism doesn’t advertise forcing a woman with a clearly visible face to undress in front of people.

It’s only fair to mention that this problem isn’t something new, but rather an ongoing phenomenon that many countries are experiencing, like Saudi Arabia or Iran. And with the significant rise of hate speech, especially with the emergence of Trump’s ideology, which associates terrorism with Islam, the international community should remain united to fight for freedom of choice and combat real oppression.

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