Casablanca - The outlaw of the burkini in a number of French cities including Nice and Cannes has stirred a worldwide uproar.
Casablanca – The outlaw of the burkini in a number of French cities including Nice and Cannes has stirred a worldwide uproar.
The humiliating photos of the police forcing a Muslim woman to take off her burkini in Promenade des Anglais in the city of Nice have gone viral on social media, stirring a heated debate between pro-burkini-ban and pro-choice. The debate took a new level in France Thursday 25th when the political class in France clashed around the ban.
Those who want to understand why France, a secular state, gives itself the right to interfere in its citizen’s dress code will find the answer in Nicolas Sarkozy’s statement in an interview Thursday 25th. The former president and the 2017 presidential frontrunner stated:
“If we do not outlaw the burkini, young women who want to wear the bikini, which is their right, will be obliged by their communities to wear the burkini”
Many French politicians have expressed the same argument, that women who wear the burkini are “forced by their communities to wear it.”
Amnesty International has deemed these arguments as “based on stereotypes,” and called on France to reconsider its position on the ban: “The arguments advocated to justify their stands are all based on negative stereotypes attached to an already stigmatized minority.”
Nonetheless, tracking these politicians’ arguments to where they originate from will help us understand why it is France and not another country that has banned the burkini: the law of 1905 that laid the foundation of secularism in France.
The Law of 1905, twisted
The Law of 1905 represents the legal framework behind the ban in France. The law, amongst many things declared France a secular state, relegated religion to the personal sphere, and took the responsibility of financing and organizing all religious institutions in the country from the state. More relevant to the burkini ban is that the law gave the religious minority equal rights as the majority, and made the individual independent from the majority.
Contrary to what many think, laicism does not exclude religion but simply relegates it from the responsibility of the state. It guarantees the rights of religious minorities to practice their religion freely and widens the limits of individual freedom. It is this set of principles that constitutes the cornerstone of La France, a country where secularism empowers religious and cultural pluralism.
In 2003, the former president of France, Jacques Chirac, launched a public debate about the application of secularism in the country. The Stasi report, named after French politician and Ombudsman at the time, Bernard Stasi, which resulted from the debate, announced that France was still attached to secularism “which is the basis of national unity, a value that gathers, as well as a guarantor of individual liberty”. The debate was fierce about the Islamic veil, particularly whether it is a personal choice or an imposition of the Community on the Individual. Nevertheless, France was still La France.
Instead of being the guarantor of women’s right to wear the burkini in contemporary France, politicians have used the principles of the 1905 law to outlaw the burkini. Going back to Sarkozy’s statements, the ban is based on the premise that the Muslim community imposes the burkini on women, and therefore the state must interfere.
The problem with this premise is twofold: first, assuming that some burkini wearers are indeed forced to wear it at the beach, the outlaw disregards the right of the Muslim majority to practice its religion freely while it attempts to free the individual women from the dominance of their community. Therefore, it sacrifices freedom of religious practice (covering the body is religious practice for women in the Islamic faith) in the sake of prioritizing the individual, both of which are on equal footing in the 1905 law.
The second problem with the burkini ban is, as Amnesty international highlights, that it is founded on prejudices, and that there is no legal evidence that wearing the burkini, or the veil for that matter, is imposed by the Muslim community.
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