The ban of the “Burkini” on several French public beaches caused a debate this summer, amongst politicians and individuals alike. The Burkini (a synthesis of the words Burqa and Bikini) was originally designed, not for religious purposes, but to protect people sensitive to the sun, it was especially popular in Australia. This bathing garment, consisting of a full body suit and a hood covering the individual’s hair, was later adopted by muslim women who wanted to keep their body covered everywhere, including the beach.
To make things clear, the Burkini violate the face covering law in France. The French law states that you cannot walk around in public areas with your face covered (as it is the case with the Burqa). However the Burkini does not cover your face, it is fully uncovered, only your hair is hidden.
No, the issue is a much more culturally profound one . For this last century France, an originally christian country, has been becoming more and more secular. Although the catholics and protestants of France first opposed this change, they later understood it and let it happen. But to see this secularism undone for the acceptance of a foreign culture and religion seems unfair to them. Those who defend the Burkini believe that to let people practice their religion freely is part of French Values. Those opposing the Burkini, on the other hand believe this practice is anti-secular and thus anti-republican for it is giving islam a larger importance than say Judaism or Christianity. They believe that by banning the Burkini for religious practices would be protecting their way of life and values.
Finally, they also accuse those wearing these Burkinis of wearing them, not in compliance of their religious beliefs, but instead to shock or create stigma around the issue. Anti-burkini militants believe it is encouraging the radicalisation of muslims. Their argument being that in most muslim countries of the 1950s, head scarves were barely worn, and these new radicalist tendencies are mostly the product of islamist propaganda and indoctrination.
France, and many European countries, are struggling to know how to integrate this new culture in their country. Should they assimilate them? Make them become European? Or on the contrary, should they be ready to sacrifice a part of their own culture to integrate theirs? It seems that France is on the fence on this issue. Many may say that the French reaction to the Burkin flirted with xenophobia. It is true that many who oppose the Burkini do it because of racist and islamophobic tendencies, but many French are simply afraid to see their Republican way of life and culture disappear under a new one.
by Pierre Alexandre L.