Burkini ban blurs the boundary of secular traditions in France
By TESS OSMER
I remember the first day I woke up in Rome like it was yesterday. My eyes brightly popped open to the sound of my sister’s only t-shirt hitting the wooden floor of our rented apartment as it swung off the clothesline. Megan, my older sister, had lost all of her luggage for my family’s week-long stay in Rome in July of 2007 and she took it like a champ. Her only outfit had been thrown in the wash the minute we got to the apartment late in the afternoon the day before.
We spent our first day touring all the famous churches in Rome: Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, Basilica of St. Paul and the Vatican. Clad with braces, a pink Ralph Lauren Polo, green and pink plaid short shorts from American Eagle and Sperrys I walked the streets of Rome.
When we arrived to the Vatican for our tour, the security pulled me aside for further screening. My plaid shorts, they informed me, did not pass the dress code, for they were “sexually provoking.” In order to remedy the situation I was forced to don a large black garbage bag. There is no better picture than the one that was taken of me that day: with a strong scowl on my face, aggressive side bangs and scene-teased hair.
Given the social environment, the history of the building and its immense importance to Catholicism, it really did not bother me at the end of the day that I had to adhere to the rules of the church. As a seventh grader I was still attending religious education classes at my local Catholic church back home in Virginia and I respected its moral values. It was simply just hot outside and my shorts, although hard to believe, were chosen due to the style.
Dress codes are not uncommon in places of worship. Moreover, even schools in the United States have general dress codes for both men and women. However, these dress codes do not apply when individuals step outside these institutions. For instance, once I had left the Vatican I hurried to the nearest trash can and tore off the garbage bag I was given with an obnoxious sneer.
This brings me to the recent bans against Burkini’s in both Nice and Cannes, France. The Burkini, an extension of the burqa, is a veil that covers the entire body and face and is designed for swimwear that caters to practicing Muslim women. A burqa is worn throughout Middle Eastern nations as a part of Sharia Law. The burqa is meant to conceal the entire body, at the exclusion of one’s eyes, as to thwart the over-sexualization of women and protect the moral compasses of pure religious women.
In Saudi Arabia, for example, a Muslim-majority country, a dress code is legally imposed for both men and women. Failure for women to wear burqas results in public beatings, stoning and harassment. Men, on the other hand, must wear traditional thobes, which cover their arms, legs and torsos.
Since this is tradition in Muslim-majority countries it has become a social norm. However, in a country that prides itself on the progression of its civil society it appalls me that France would enact such a ban on women. Moreover, with numerous nudist beaches in towns such as Cap D’Agde’s, it seems backwards that fully covering oneself at the beach warrants an arrest.
Quartz reported on the Burkini bans after the terrorist attack on the shore of Nice and found two instances of women being fined and forced to take their clothes off at the beach.
A woman in Nice was approached by three police officers, they reported, while wearing a long- sleeved blouse, leggings and a headscarf and was forced to take off her clothes. Similarly, in Cannes, a woman was fined for wearing a Burkini. The ticket was written up for “not wearing an outfit respecting good morals and secularism.”
In Turkey, however, where secular ideas prevail, women are given the freedom to choose whether or not to wear burqas and other head wear. Interestingly, according to the World Fact Book, 99.8 percent of people in Turkey are Sunni Muslims who are thus allowed to choose their own dress code standards.
What France is doing by banning Burkinis, is perpetuating conformity and blurring the lines of its previously secular social norms. Moreover, after such a devastating loss of roughly 77 people in Nice the last thing the government should by doing is isolating groups of practicing Muslims. For, as a part of a society that is already under a large quantity of surveillance and threat, Muslim women are further being targeted for respecting their religious values.
Because terrorism is fueled by the oppression in the Middle East by western countries this ban simply inflames an already lit fire. Isolating women in countries such as France where social norms are profoundly progressive is insanely counterproductive to the enhancement of civil society.