Should French Muslim Women Become Invisible?


It would be difficult to find swimsuits skimpy enough to offend the French Riviera. It turns out that people are more easily shocked by the idea of ​​covering up.

With still strong emotions after the attacks against the crowds of July 14 in Nice and against a Norman church, the mayor of Cannes instituted a ban on bathing on the beaches of the city in dress which could be considered incompatible with morality , secularism, hygiene or safety – as well as anyone wading fully dressed. No one doubted what he had in mind: the long hooded two-piece for Muslim women, known as the burkini. Other local mayors have followed suit, sparking heated debate and legal issues that have yet to be resolved by France’s Supreme Court.

The controversy may seem trivial, but it sums up the difficulties French society faces in the face of the threat of jihadism. In a country that bans the veil in schools and the full version in public spaces, there is widespread unease over visible expressions of faith. But that shouldn’t lead people to confuse strong religious belief with violent extremism.

It can be difficult for those outside of France to see the subversive side of a swimsuit. There is no consensus on the issue in France, nor among French Muslims. But the aversion to the burkini transcends party boundaries. Jean-François Cope, a right-wing politician seeking to run for president, stirred up opposition to a private burkini event (later canceled) with the cry: “No to Salafist holidays! Manuel Valls, socialist prime minister, denounced the burkini as the instrument of an “archaic” conception of Islam, and of a “political project based on the enslavement of women”.

Whatever one thinks of the burkini, it’s hard to see how legislating against it could help.

Feminist arguments are unlikely to cut the ice with young Muslim women who have no doubts about their own autonomy and choose to cover themselves up. And for anyone who is indeed under family or cultural pressure, the alternative might be to stay at home.

Some mayors only make political gestures. But others are acting on genuine concerns about the mess. There was a brawl on a beach in Corsica between Muslim families and other locals, followed by a more serious disruption.

To flaunt one’s Muslim identity is a provocation in the current climate, it is argued (this is a point of view shared by some Muslims, reluctant to invite racist aggression). But it is logic that accuses victims of sexual assault of wearing provocative clothes. If there is a danger of such a reaction, politicians should not legitimize it.

Rather than invoking the secular constitution and attacking symbols of Muslim identity, France needs an honest discussion about what secularism means and whether it is preventing some Muslims from finding their place within it. French society. Secularity is not a static concept. Attitudes have hardened in recent years, with a majority advocating not only the separation of church and state, but also the avoidance of religious manifestations in all public spaces.

First generation immigrants often acquiesced in such “discretion” as the price of acceptance into French society. But for young Muslims, especially those angry at discrimination, religion is increasingly a sign of identity.

So when Jean-Pierre Chev̬nement, a senior socialist politician likely to head the new Foundation for Islam in France Рintended to promote integration Рsaid this week that Muslims would do well to exercise discretion, the media social workers offered a quick and sarcastic response. Some have suggested passing the headscarf to avoid frizzy hair; others posted Harry Potter donning an invisibility cloak.

Some may still laugh about it, but the message many young Muslims are getting from the Burkinis controversy is that the French state would prefer them to be invisible.

– The Financial Times service


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