By Trevor Castor
Photographs of armed, male police officers forcing a Muslim woman to remove her over-garment on a public, French beach are currently trending on social media. The woman was told to remove her long sleeve top (revealing a tank top underneath) and to tie her headscarf into a bandana. She was also fined for not wearing “an outfit respecting good morals and secularism.” One eyewitness was quoted in The Guardian, saying, “The saddest thing was that people were shouting ‘go home’, [and] some were applauding the police,” she said. “Her daughter was crying.”
This incident results from the recent ban by several French towns on a particular style of swimsuit, known as a burkini, which is often worn by Muslim women. Ironically, the woman in the picture was not even wearing a burkini; she was simply wearing a traditional headscarf. It is important to note that the burkini is nothing like the burqa. The best way to describe the burkini would be to compare the garment to a loose-fitting wetsuit with a hoodie over the top portion of the suit, leaving the wearer’s face fully visible. I can’t imagine that Catholic nuns will be prohibited from wearing their religious attire on the same beaches. One can easily sense that the principle of religious equality in secularism does not apply to Muslims. In order to understand the rationale behind the ban on burkinis, it is necessary to discuss the principle of secularism in France and its deep-seated theocratic phobia.
Since the French Revolution, France has been committed to the principles of laïcité(secularism), or more simply put, the complete separation of church and state. Prior to the Revolution, the Catholic Church controlled both the spiritual and temporal powers in France, including the education system. Once the Catholic Church was removed from power, the 1905 Law of Separation finalized the eradication of a state religion in France. The first two articles of the Law of Separation state: “Article 1. The Republic ensures freedom of conscience. It guarantees the free exercise of religion. Article 2. It neither recognizes nor subsidizes any religion.” It seems odd that the principles of secularism would be used to prohibit wearing religious clothing considering the two articles above.
The debate concerning the interpretation of laïcité and its application for Muslim women’s clothing is not new. However, the increasing Muslim population in France, along with recent attacks by Muslim radicals, has spurred controversy to new heights. The problem first arose in 1989, in what has come to be known as the Scarf Affair. The Scarf Affair took place in Creil, France, on October 3, 1989, when three Muslim girls were expelled from middle school after refusing to remove their headscarves. The head-master of the middle school commented that headscarves would contravene the Republic’s principle of secularism. Eventually the Conseil ď État, which is the highest court in France, ruled that the wearing of “signs of religious affiliation” is not in contradiction to the principles of laïcité .
Click here to read the rest of the article Burkini Ban