I've been thinking a lot lately about the rising number of religious clashes going on in France, with the most recent one being the "Burkini Ban". (In case you've never heard of it, a burkini is a piece of swimwear that covers the whole body except for the face - think a slightly looser version of a wet suit with a hood). I believe the whole talk of bans first started in Marseille, where a local pool had a Burkini event planned. This was eventually canceled after the organizers received death threats.
The city of Cannes then announced their decision to ban all burkinis from their beaches, and other communes have followed suit, most recently a small seaside resort in Corsica. Some are trying to cover it up by saying it's a "hygiene issue", not a religious issue, but that argument falls a bit flat.
As background, the French government has banned the wearing of head scarves (or any other outward religious symbols) since 2004 I believe, but this only applies to public institutions such as schools or government offices. What people wanted to do or wear on their own time was still up to them. These local bans however are taking things one step further by applying them to public spaces, and I think this is where I start to become uncomfortable.
I get that outward religious symbols can be cause for discrimination or perturbations in a school setting, especially when institutions are offering a supposedly secular education. But telling people what they can or can't wear when they go swimming on their day off? That just seems like plain racism. I mean, people got all outraged when five Muslim women insulted and beat-up a teenage French girl for wearing short shorts...well, this is just the same thing flip-flopped.
The whole idea of wearing a hijab or a burqa has always been an interesting one for me. Over the years, I've had a lot of conversation with women in various Muslim countries, and every single one has always said wearing the head scarf has been their own choice. (Though whether or not they would feel comfortable saying otherwise is another story I guess).
I also got a chance to talk a bit more about it a bit more with my two lovely Egyptian guides. We were in the bathroom at one point, and they both took off their hijabs. As they were readjusting them, I asked "If you don't mind answering, at what age did you start wearing the hijab?" They said "No, of course we don't mind". My customer's sister explained she had started at the age of 16, but I was surprised to learn that his wife had just started 6 months ago.
She and her family had the opportunity to go to Mecca, where the women are required to wear the full-on burqa. She mentioned she was worried beforehand that she would feel oppressed by wearing it, but what actually happened is that while she was there, she was filled with such a sense of joy and peace. Not having to worry at all about outward appearances ended up being really freeing for her - so much so that when she came back home, she wanted to hold on to that feeling, and so she decided to wear the head scarf. The decision was completely her own, with no pressure from her family. She was of course worried about being treated differently when traveling outside of Muslim countries, but decided that it was a sacrifice she was finally willing to make.
I asked what she meant by sacrifice, and she said that at least in Egypt, wearing the headscarf was not about hiding your sexuality or being someone's property, but that it was about making a personal sacrifice for God. As-in, sacrificing your own vanity about your hair, your make-up, being perceived as attractive, etc. That led to another discussion about what men in turn 'sacrifice', which was not entirely satisfactory for me, but I was glad to at least be able to learn a bit more about at least their motivations for wearing it.
Anyways, all that to say - maybe there needs to be a distinction between countries that force women to wear them and countries that leave it as a personal choice? I could be wrong, but it is my current understanding that most of the Muslim women in France are choosing to wear the burkini, and I also think that they should have that choice, just as I can chose to wear a bikini, a one-piece or nothing at all. (Kidding!). I mean there are other religions where the women can only wear long skirts, and we don't try to force them to wear pants, even though that in itself is an outward sign of religion. It just seems to me that banning burkinis is only going to serve as more propaganda for both sides. French racists are going to feel that their thoughts are justified and it will also fuel the fire for extremists on the other side, which only opens us up to more attacks down the road.
I'm interested in what you guys think, so let's do another poll: