Several beach towns in France have banned the burkini, a full-body swimsuit worn by some Muslim women.
Images of armed police forcing a woman in Nice to take off her burkini in public have sparked outrage worldwide. Another woman in Cannes was threatened with pepper spray and ordered off the beach for wearing a headscarf. Both women were fined, and dozens more have been targeted.
This comes after years of restrictions on what Muslim women can wear in France, with numerous attacks on the right to wear headscarves. Some schools have even removed non-pork meal options for children. The crackdown is blatant scapegoating.
The French bans began last month in Cannes, where right-wing mayor David Lisnard ridiculously denounced them as “the uniform of extremist Islamism”. The various bans claim that openly Muslim dress risks “inflaming tensions” and “disrupting public order”, and that the state ought to target swimwear that does not reflect “good customs and secularism”. The bans are the latest in a series of similar bans across Europe, including towns in Germany and Austria.
The ban is simply blatant Islamophobia—perversely turning on its head the usual sexist concern of the state’s moral police with covering women’s bodies. The pictures of police ordering women to disrobe horrified people around the world and graphically revealed the willingness of the French state to discriminate against Muslim women.
Sadly, much of the French left have supported it, in the name of liberating women from religion. Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls endorsed the ban as part of, “a determined fight against radical Islam”. Even radical left presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon denounced the burkini as “a sign of militancy” and a “provocation”.
But the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA) in France has staged beachside protests, with the slogan “It’s up to women to decide: too covered or not enough!”
Ironically, the burkini ban has caused sales to double in the past week. The Australian inventor of the burkini said the design was partially inspired by hijab bans in French schools.
Moves like this only embolden racists and further alienate the already marginalised Muslim populations of Europe.
France’s top administrative court has now ruled these bans “clearly and seriously illegal”. Some mayors have tried to defy the ruling. As France gears up for elections, the left must draw a line in the sand on Islamophobia and sexism alike.
By Jason Wong