01 September 2016
The recent ban and legal rulings on the burkini (Islamic swimsuit) in a number of French towns raises questions about the aims of the policy, as well as the way women’s bodies are used as the ideological battlefield between cultures.
The French town of Cannes and about 30 others recently banned the wearing of a full body swimsuit termed the burkini. It was a controversial move that was first upheld in the courts but now overturned by France’s highest court. However, many French politicians seem ready to defy the legal rulings. The legislation was placed within the context of France’s current state of emergency following a number of terrorist attacks upon the country. In particular, the issue of public order has been raised as one concern, while it has also been termed a costume of “Islamic extremism”. It has also been called an “enslavement of women” opposed to French values of gender equality.
Within France a number of factors need to be considered. One is France’s strict vision of secularism, known as laïcité, where religion is removed from the public sphere. This provides the context in which the full face veil is banned in France, the only European country apart from Belgium with such a ban. Notably, though, the burkini does not cover the face. Another is the political rise of right wing groups, often promoting anti-Muslim rhetoric. With elections coming up, politicians need to appeal to the kind of constituency such parties reach out to.
… Paul Hedges PhD is Associate Professor in Interreligious Studies for the Studies in Inter-Religious Relations in Plural Societies (SRP) Programme, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
SRP / Online
Last updated on 02/09/2016