When you think of the summer, you think of carefree days on the beach spent relaxing with family and friends.
But this has not been the case this year if you’re a Muslim woman in France. In August the mayor of Cannes banned the wearing of burkinis – a modest whole-body swimsuit often worn by Muslim women – and since then a number of other French towns have followed suit. Incidents of women being fined, forced to undress, and verbally abused by members of the public have been widespread.
In a country where the national motto includes ‘liberté’ – freedom – this act of public discrimination seems out of place in the 21st century.
So what has led to this burkini ban and the growing unease amongst the French population?
With terrorist attacks from groups such as IS almost becoming a regular occurrence in France, attitudes towards the growing Muslim population have soured in recent years. The far right political parties, such as the Front National, have jumped on this with their opposition to immigration, particularly Muslim immigration.
France is a country that prides itself on its secularism of the state. However, the idea that this can extend into people’s personal lives through dictating what they can wear seems outrageous.
But this is not just a problem for France and its people – this story has been making waves around the globe. Some people agree with the actions of French mayors, saying that it is freeing women from what some people see as the restrictive rules of Islam. Others disagree by stating that it is the woman’s choice to wear what she wishes, and that it is within her rights to dress according to her religion. However, when it comes down to it, the opinions of others shouldn’t really matter.
Everyone should be free to practice whatever religion they choose. Other people privately following their beliefs doesn’t affect the general population, so even if some disagree with it, these beliefs should still be respected. But it gets trickier when others argue about their safety, or the importance of adapting to the society in which you live. Although these are valid points, arguments such as these tend to only impact the minority. And when the rights of minorities are limited, this then threatens everyone’s freedoms.
In the Western world, we assume that we are born with freedoms that allow us to live our lives as we wish. But laws such as the burkini ban are clearly restricting the actions of a minority. By banning a piece of clothing that many people see as religious, it may be a slippery slope that ends with nobody being allowed to express their religion in case it offends others. This would then exacerbate the fear and hatred towards certain groups in our society.
This doesn’t sound like a very pleasant society to live in, but it is one to which we could be heading towards – sooner rather than later if laws such like the burkini ban become widespread.
No matter what you think of burkinis, one thing is clear – women are going to continue to make the choice to wear them. Banning the burkini won’t achieve anything except increase discrimination towards a group in society that needs our support the most. Surely we should be making our society a freer place for everyone, no matter your religion, race, or background?
The fact that the burkini ban got so far without being questioned is the wake-up call that we needed. It is feared that this burkini ban will cause a chain reaction around the world, but this will only happen if we let it.
By respecting each other’s beliefs, understanding others, and standing together as a community, we can end this discrimination that plights us in 2016.