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Let’s Not Cover This Up

In my 30 something year life I can honestly say (and hopefully a few folks can vouch for this too!) that there have only been a few occasions when I’ve felt incensed.  Yesterday was one of those days.  Images and news emerged of 4 armed police officers surrounding a woman on a busy beach in Nice, forcing her to remove her clothes, as a result of recent spate of bans in France which prohibit “beachwear ostentatiously showing a religious affiliation while France and places of religious significance are the target of terror attacks”.  Only clothing that is “is respectful to morality and secular principles, and in compliance with hygiene and safety rules” is allowed.

What this actually translates as is, if you’re a Muslim woman (or are racially profiled and assumed to be a Muslim woman) in a burqini or covered up on a beach with a ban in place, expect to be humiliated and be the victim of a violent act of being forced to strip. Because by you choosing to not to expose parts of your body in public, whilst having a day out on the beach, most likely with children or friends, swimming, sunbathing and building sandcastles, politicians in a twisted way have decided you’re subscribing to extremist values, and therefore are a danger. Their solution to identifying a terrorist threat – more clothes on the beach = danger.

Just for the record, I don’t ever recall wetsuits conjuring up so much controversy or ever being described as unsafe or unhygienic.  Burqinis are made from the exact same material. The burqini ban seems like a convenient cover up to a wider agenda about power and control, and a manifestation of this is creating divided communities, the ‘othering’, by discouraging Muslims and others to live, work and enjoy leisure time together.

If there hadn’t been photographic evidence of this deplorable incident it would be quite hard to believe that this actually happened, in a so-called developed ‘western’ country which supposedly subscribes to and prides itself in the values of progressiveness, gender equality and freedom of expression.

Oh the irony of it all! The powers that be in France enforcing, essentially women, to uncover at the beach, how are they any different to Daesh or politicians in Iraq forcing women to cover up?! Both are oppressive and perpetrators of the same crime.

To add to my aforementioned feelings about this situation, and as someone that works in the gender equality arena and furthermore is aware of various, well organised and strong feminist, and violence against women movements across the globe, I’m still waiting to see an outcry about this incident.  Is there a case of selective feminism at play here?

Infuriated that a ridiculous ban like this is in play, I feel concerned about what’s coming up ahead particularly for Muslim women.  When wider society is quiet about injustice, it doesn’t take long before we regress, and wrongs against a community become acceptable.

As I sign off about the implications of ‘policing’ of women’s dress, here at home on the same day, Police Scotland introduced the hijab as a way to encourage more Muslim women that wear hijab to join the Force.  Take note France.

Samina Ansari

CEO, Amina – The Muslim Women’s Resource Centre