By Hanane Karimi
September 6, 2016
IN NICE, less than a month after the
Bastille Day attack on the Promenade des Anglais, which killed 86 people and
was claimed by the Islamic State group, something quite odd happened. The city
mayor, like mayors in many other towns on the French Riviera, issued an order
to ban the wearing of Burkinis. This decree targets a piece of non-revealing
swimwear worn by some Muslim women when they go to the beach.
The Organisation Against Islamophobia in
France and the Human Rights League have both deemed this decree to be
discriminatory and oppressive, and have brought a case before the
Administrative Court of Nice to have it annulled.
They did not succeed in this attempt, and
the Administrative Court decided to ban, once again, the Burkini from the beach
at Cannes and Villeneuve-Loubet, on August 13 and August 22 respectively,
explaining that ‘it was necessary, logical and commensurate’ given the
post-attack climate prevailing in the region.
The two human rights organisations decided
to bring their case before the French council of state, the ultimate authority
on administrative law cases. On August 25, the council revoked the decree in
Villeneuve-Loubet, declaring that the ‘contentious and illegal decree severely
undermined fundamental freedoms’.
In what can be seen as an act of rebellion,
even sedition, and several mayors have now disowned the council’s decision and
refused to lift their Burkini bans. This stand-off shows that some elected
politicians are prepared to see a change to the laws that safeguard citizens’
rights in France, even when the highest administrative court in the land warns
such anti-Burkini decrees imperil fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the
Republic’s constitution, the founding texts of French law.
Religious Neutrality Is Mandatory
ARTICLE 2 of the French constitution
enshrines equality before the law for all, without distinction as to origin,
race, and religion. All creeds are equally respected.
Article 10 of the 1789 Declaration of the
Rights of Man and of the Citizen Guarantees equality of opinions, even
The 1905 law on the separation of the
church and the state says: ‘The Republic ensures freedom of conscience and
guarantees the free practice of religions…’ Here, secularism clearly means that
the state has to be 100 percent neutral when it comes to churches and acts of worship.
Yet, a century later, that definition has shifted and secularism now means that
citizens have to be seen to be religiously neutral when out in public spaces.
The term secularism is hotly and widely
used when it comes to French Muslim citizens. The Burkini issue recalls a
similar case that happened in 1989, commonly known as the ‘affaire des
foulards’ in Creil, northern France. In October of that year, the head teacher
of Creil’s Gabriel Hafez middle school denied access to three girl students who
were wearing the Hijab headscarf. At that time, the Socialist party’s Lionel
Jospin was minister of national education and asked the French Council of State
to settle the pending litigation.
The Conseil des Sages (the nickname given
to the council) established that wearing the Hijab was not inconsistent with
the principle of secularism.
Dissatisfied with the council’s conclusion,
many politicians continued fighting for a law that would prohibit the wearing
of religious symbols, especially the Hijab, based on a biased vision of
secularism. This culminated in a legislation, passed in March 2004 under the
presidency of Jacques Chirac, to prohibit employees and students in public
schools from wearing conspicuous religious symbols.
History gives us a fresh perspective. As in
the ‘affaire des foulards’ case, the Burkini bans signal an ever increasing
exclusion and stigmatisation of Muslim women in France. All in the name of
secularism, which is supposed to let them practice their religion freely?
‘No Jews or Dogs Allowed’
JUST as 12 years ago, stigmatising Muslim
women who wear the Hijab inevitably leads to clashes, Islamophobic acts and can
serve to liberate and legitimise racist speech. That is why video footage,
released last weekend has caused outrage. It shows two women being thrown out
of a restaurant in Tremblay-en-France, a Paris suburb, where the owner
allegedly made racist comments, including: ‘All Muslims are terrorists.’
The current state of emergency in France
has meant such paranoid statements are no longer the discourse of the
right-wing, and constitutional secularism has been perverted, and used to
segregate citizens into the legitimate ones, who may enjoy common law, and the
illegitimate ones, who have to defer to specific laws.
Since the Creil case, specific laws are
being applied to: Muslim women who wear the Hijab; a ban on wearing conspicuous
religious symbols at school; a ban on wearing the Niqab in public; a proposal
for a ban on Muslim nannies wearing their Hijab at home while looking after
children; a ban on Muslim mothers accompanying children on school trips; and,
latest of all, this ban on wearing Burkinis at the beach.
What is happening in France is serious and
dangerous. Politicians are isolating and stigmatising a whole chunk of the
French population because of their faith.
The Office of the United Nations High
Commissioner for Human Rights has now said that ‘the bans do not aid security
and fuel religious intolerance and the stigmatisation of Muslims, especially
France’s Jewish Association for Peace is
not afraid to compare how the Republic is treating Muslims today to the way its
Jews were treated during the Nazi occupation. The fact that Muslims are banned
from some public places reminds us of a time when signs reading ‘No Jews or
dogs allowed’ were placed at the entrance to parks, restaurants and coffee
When elected politicians plead that wearing
the Hijab is a provocation, or that they are indeed protecting women and public
order against Islamic proselytism through these banning orders, it is pure
nonsense. What is actually happening is a sexist and Islamophobic segregation
that is seeking legal justification.
MUSLIM women have been sidelined,
humiliated, called ‘negroes’ and compared to slaves who enjoy ‘being enslaved’
by Laurence Rossignol, the French minister for women’s rights, and conflated
with Islamist activists by French premier Manuel Valls.
France, a birthplace of ‘human rights’, has
failed in its egalitarian mission by not keeping its promises and not applying
its principles. No liberty, no equality and no fraternity: instead, government
after government has marginalised religious and ethnic minorities, denying them
equal status in the nation.
The state itself has to make sure there is
equality. It is not up to each single citizen to prove that they deserve to
enjoy common law or they are able to blend in. But what does blending in mean
for people who have always been living in France?
The Burkini case illustrates France’s
growing identity crisis. It also happens to be a serious case of denial of
democracy that needs to be condemned. Secularism is dead. It has been dead from
the moment that elected politicians used it to exclude, stigmatise and revoke
rights that secularism is supposed to protect. In its place is a new standard
of national purity, in which Muslim women are expected to be invisible.
Aayina: By mentioning "religion" as our personal choice that we practice, I mean that we admire it, adopt it and practice it, finally we advocate and defend it even if we do not agree to certain points. we can not deny that we do it by our agreement to it's tenets, teachings, practices and culture etc.
I agree we are bound to follow our family's religion as a child, but whom will be blame for our faith after being adult when we know certain merit and demerits of religions.
After adulthood, we only are responsible for every acts of ours in every walks of life including religious practices. As an adult the nation's constitution, laws and society are with you, nobody can force you then to accept and practice any faith.
As one's Faith is one's own.
There are certain people, communities who change their religion to practice the Faith of their own choice including Atheism who do not follow any religion.
That is why I say we can not blame others for our Faith in whose practice we are free to adopt. Even if we are bound in any religion, whatsoever reasons - our meekness, cowardliness, family pressure, we are responsible and should accept it.
Dear Aayina: Neither go with the YouTube videos of any tribe, section nor
any Jaini religious practice or procession in which the devotees remain
fully naked. Recently, on 31 July (Sunday) I was somewhere in Greater Noida, I
countered a naked procession of Jainis, it was my first encountered with such a
practice, I noticed the passersby being ashamed and hiding their faces, but
nobody objected as it was related to a religion.
In this situation, should we summarize that naked procession is moral,
practical, acceptable and appreciable in our society and we should start
walking naked in streets?
Another example: I think you are very weak in current affairs especially in
India, as you are uninformed about the indecent (rape) cases being reported by
their own family members. Just open a newspaper, or switch over to any news
channel, you will be flooded with such news items as cousin brothers, uncles
and even fathers are reported doing such immoral acts. I mean to point out the
level of denigration, demoralization, degradation, dilapidation of our
In such a situation, should we imitate or follow French PM Manuel Valls, who
suggests naked breasts represent France better than a headscarf, for what he is
being condemned everywhere and by everyone, but it seems, here he finds some
principle enshrined in the Article 2 of the French constitution has failed in maintaining
religious neutrality as mandatory.
Burkini or Hijab is truly a denial of democracy.