By Brooklyn Middleton
20 August 2016
There is a deep and bitter irony in French authorities banning the Burkini – a swimming garment some Muslim women choose to wear – in an effort to promote liberal values. Only in the most repressive societies are women legally obligated to comply with stipulated dress codes. Whether on a beach in Cannes or at a market in Tehran, no woman should be confronted with the humiliating experience that is being penalized for what she chooses to wear on her own body.
In moving to dictate to women what kind of fabric is acceptable for them to place on themselves while sunbathing or swimming, the mayors of Sisco, Cannes, and Villeneuve-Loubet are behaving more like ultra-conservative figures in some countries of the Middle East than like other Western leaders. Sanctioning what clothing a woman must wear in order to be allowed in a public place – whether the law demands her to be more modest or less so – is an affront to women’s rights and liberal values.
Even Prime Minister Manuel Valls came out in public support of local officials enacting bans on Burkinis, calling the garment, a “provocation” and “not compatible with the values of France.” He also referred to the Burkini as representative of “the enslavement of women.” Thus, it is then unclear why PM Valles would support penalizing these “enslaved” women. Just a few days ago, three women wearing Burkinis - who were at the beach with their children - were issued fines by police officers and told to leave; who can justify this action? Does France plan on deploying secular police to make sure sunbathers are wearing the attire they deem appropriate? Perhaps they can undergo training on how to handle such matters from an Islamic country’s morality police forces. A nation cannot force secularism on religious women by criminalizing modest swimwear. Women in France who wear Burkinis or other similar swimwear must not be ostracized for doing so.
Sanctioning what clothing a woman must wear in order to be allowed in a public place – whether the law demands her to be more modest or less so – is an affront to women’s rights and liberal values
Cannes Mayor David Lisnard attempted to cite safety issues as the reason for enacting the Burkini ban noting he decided to do so to ensure the “city is safe in the context of the state of emergency.” The state of emergency – which came into effect after the barbaric ISIS attacks that reportedly caused the worst bloodshed on French soil since WWII – does not justify this ban. Unlike a Burqa, which obscures the face entirely and could complicate a security check, a head-to-toe bathing suit presents no security risk to French beaches. Further, the law in Cannes reportedly indicates that the Burkinis are “liable to create risks of disrupting public order (crowds, scuffles etc.).” If French authorities are concerned that Burkinis may trigger skirmishes with other beach goers, then the focus should be on deescalating tensions not heightening them by introducing bans that single out and embarrass. France is facing a number of critical security issues and none of them have to do with the type of bathing suit their citizens and tourists wear.
Brooklyn Middleton is an American Political and Security Risk Analyst currently based in New York City. She has previously written about U.S. President Obama's policy in Syria as well as Bashar al-Assad's continued crimes against his own people. She recently finished her MA thesis on Ayatollah Khomeini’s influence on the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group, completing her Master's degree in Middle Eastern Studies.