France’s anti-Muslim paranoia is almost reaching the level of Trump’s. Over five French mayors have banned burkini-wearers from their beaches and swimming pools variously arguing that the garment invented by an Australian of Lebanese origin is not in accordance with their country’s culture/values or, worse, that it symbolizes religious radicalism and, therefore, encourages the expansion of extremist ideologies. Wrong on all counts.
Firstly, during earlier eras French women dipped their toes into the sea fully covered except for their arms and their lower legs. Secondly, the rule doesn’t apply to nuns who’ve been captured on camera frolicking in the sea in their habits worn for reasons of modesty; the very same reason female adherents of Islam cover their bodies. Thirdly, are divers to be ousted from beaches as well?
France’s constitution bars discrimination based on religion or race, and there are no laws governing dress codes on beaches other than laws concerning undress.
Most importantly, the type of extremists willing to strap themselves with explosives wouldn’t be seen dead in a figure-hugging burkini. In reality, these ridiculous discriminatory bans — particularly coming after the ban on headscarves in France’s public schools and another forbidding the all-encompassing burka to be worn in public places — are a terrorist-recruiters dream. They can now argue with conviction that French authorities are hostile to Islamic customs and religious proscriptions.
France, home to Europe’s largest Muslim minority, seems to be going out of its way to antagonize its five million Muslim citizens while at the same time exhorting them to assimilate into its way of life; a call that doesn’t extend to other faiths or ethnic communities.
There’s only so much assimilating that can be achieved given religious differences not to mention the fact that even third-generation North Africans are still viewed by society at large as unwelcome outsiders with strange habits and criminal-leanings.
Algerians, Moroccans and Tunisians are pushed to be back of the job queues and often bundled into shabby high-rise housing estates on the outskirts of major cities, such as Paris, Marseille and Lyon. Their very presence is resented by sectors of the indigenous population whose forefathers considered Algeria as a department of France, whose, primarily working class, “pied noir” settlers showed little respect for Algerian culture.
Mosques and cemeteries were leveled. French became the dominant language and the peoples of Algeria were “subjects” unless they surrendered their religion with the exception of Algerian Jews who were automatically afforded French citizenship.
Algerians were oppressed on their own soil for 132 years and when the French were forced to leave in 1962, the Arabic language was all but erased. I’ve spoken to Algerians who participated in the bloody revolution, one whose face and neck still bore the scars of torture. He recounted the horror of having a hosepipe stuffed down his throat before the water was turned on.
Put simply, if Paris hadn’t annexed Algeria, occupied Tunisia for almost 70 years and forced the Sultan of Fez to concede Morocco’s sovereignty to France, immigration from those countries would have been a mere trickle and France’s mayors wouldn’t be consumed with paranoia over Lycra swimwear as though it were a dangerous weapon threatening their nation’s secular values or as a creation designed to enslave womanhood, as some French commentators have suggested.
For many Muslim women and girls, the burkini is liberating. Formerly consigned to either swimming fully dressed or languishing on a beach, observing fathers, husbands and kids making a splash, they can now enjoy the fun. Those French mayors aren’t preserving French values. On the contrary, they’re spoilsports flouting “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity,” France’s cherished national motto.