New Age Islam
Tue Aug 04 2020, 09:27 PM

Islam, Women and Feminism ( 5 Sept 2016, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Comment | Comment

The Death of French Secularism: Burkini Case Happens To Be a Serious Case of Denial of Democracy

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 religious ones.

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 Muslim women’.

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 shops.

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.

Becoming Invisible

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.




Total Comments (22)

  • 22 .

    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.   

    By Raihan Nezami 11/09/2016 01:29:16
  • 21 .

    I agree with most of your comment.

    Apart from the choice of relgion.

    Other than western world, in eastern part of world, the relgion is givin by birth to the child, and than made sure this kids does not go out of the fold of that relgion, and all pitfalls and absurdity of their relgion is explained by Philosphical answers.

    I do not hate the relgions or the faith but the interpretation and old tradition that leads our life mesirable, if time and technology had change than it had to deal accordingly.

    I give two example, first one from Hindus and second from Muslims and Christians both are related to death.

    Example of Hindu:
    Hindus go and put all ashes of their loved ones in the river and also do puja and throw all type of rubbish, does that river will be environmentally sustainable, no certainly not, we have seen one episode of Aamir khan on this.

    Example of Muslim and Christians:
    Does India with high population and lack of land can afford to have Graveyard, their was recent fight among sia and Sunni on this.

    We Indians and eastern world are stagnant in this matter also, if go in western part of the world, their are both type of Christians( mostly they called themselves westerners and enlighten ones) you can find both type of Christians, one bury in graveyard, so do other do cremation.

    Above are just examples, but people can follow what they want, I am not here to impose.

    I have decided for my self, a new technology is soon coming,  that will convert to dead body into organic matter in just some hours and can be feed to plant, if it is aviablabe by the death of mine, I will give my body to the plants, that had nourished me thorough out my life, unless my family has no choice than cremation.
    By Aayina 10/09/2016 13:46:31
  • 20 .
    Dear Aayina: I just want to try to clear a point of superiority complex in Faith with my little intelligence. Quite often you will listen from people that certain believers project their faith as superior to others. The question arises why does this superior feeling arise in followers mind? I feel the answer lies in our choice of one Faith from amongst various religions available in this world. If we acquire or procure some thing, we do it only when we think that is better or the best among others. So, in my opinion, the superiority complex lies in the hearts of the believers -  Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian or anyone. For example,  if you buy an IPhone which is available in four colours, you choose a certain colour and wait for it if it's not available, because you like that colour although all pieces are manufactured by the same company. That's the case with our faith too, you practice Hinduism as you think it's better of all in its teachings culture etc. Likewise a Muslim,  a Christian, a Jews, a Jain Muni etc does. Some followers guard their faith, control their feelings, but others start projecting superiority of their faith and become radicalized. In short. I think superiority complex is a natural trait of choices and likings for our belongings. 
    By Raihan Nezami 10/09/2016 10:20:15
  • 19 .

    I am aware of immoral acts you Raihan N have mentioned, that is the precise reason I have commented, and posted the link to show that it is sick state of mind of humans, especially men.

    If people with large numbers are their with sick state of mind than you have to make rules and laws which can make society better place, but it should be changeable, not stagnant.

    Burkha, Niqab or Duppatta, whatever it should be based on moral of society not on some interpretation by relgious Leadears.

    If you are living in India than you must open up your eyes by just learning the evil effects of Hinduism, which ended up dictating on every matter of life, Muslims are entering in this phase, especially Indian Muslim.

    You have  given example of Jain Munis, that exactly my point is they are practising a stagnant version of their relgion, but Jains community  had moved forward with new Mordern terms of the world.

    Well Muslims can live and practise what they want, as long they do not try to project, whatever their thoughts are superior and others are inferior, you can see this arrogance in lots of Muslim commentators, same is true for commentators who are not follower of Islam.

    My whole point was to expose sick state of mind.
    By Aayina 10/09/2016 06:28:48
  • 18 .

    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 civilized society.

    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 supporters too.


    By Raihan Nezami 09/09/2016 23:54:50