To Burkini or Not to Burkini

Remember that dream where you wake up in a cold sweat because you are naked in public? It is just as horrific when someone is trying to cloak you with so many clothes that you are invisible. You are so sexualized that the mere show of your skin or hair would be claimed responsible for public harm. There are hoards of Muslim Feminists who have argued that the veil is a rejection of progressive values – values that they adhere to Islam. There are those women in many countries that have shed the veil as a symbolic show of liberation.

That being exposed in public nightmare – I would imagine that the Muslim woman on a French beach wearing a burkini (a more conservative version of a diving suit) felt the same terror when she was asked to remove it on a public beach. Yes, right there and then, among jeers of other onlookers and harassers. This act of unclothing her by police is plain despotic. A Salem witch hunt except of burkini women who just want to exercise a will in how much skin they want to show for whatever reason – cultural oppression; a path to spiritual freedom or just to avoid a sun tan.

The Indian vigilantes are doing it to anyone suspect of disrespecting or eating a cow. As we know cows are holy in Hindu tradition. The Modi government is looking the other way and some of their ministers are applauding the murder of Muslims falsely accused of it. In the Philippines the government is calling a mass flood of murders for anyone suspected to be involved in a drug trade. It’s a license to kill with zero oversight and due process.

Wait, wasn’t France the same country that protected secularism so to-each-his-own could be birthed as a philosophy and the state would have no say in individual freedoms? How is it beginning to sound like those countries with a human rights track record of a machete-armed Boko Haram soldier?

It is a fallacy to think that stripping someone of their sense of dignity is anything short of an attack on liberty, and by extension, even on life. What is a life worth if not lived to its own definition of what is honorable. In a world reeling from terrorism and intolerance, it may seem only logical to lash out at the symbols that define the other. It is perhaps the worst thing to do because it makes that one thing suspect that would restore order: trust.

These times call for more tolerance, not less. In French philosopher, Voltaire’s own words: What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other’s folly – that is the first law of nature.

If there is anyone counting on France to alienate its Muslims, it is the kind of people who carried out the Nice attack.

Women’s choice of clothing is not a decision for the collective, women are not to be sorted or categorized or taxonomized. They are just as varied as rich white males would be, definitely more. Making a choice to tie their hijab with a brooch is not any less empowering as wearing a bikini is an equalizer of the wage gap. These ought to be as benign in terms its effects on the state as the type of shoe size they wear.

It is bizarre in the truest sense to dictate what beach wear women can put on in France just as it is horrific to flog women for not wearing the burka in Afghanistan. The similarities are eerie: They are both telling women to do something to please a patriarchal structure and status quo. Unclothing a woman in her public space is not progressive, it is a denial of her fundamental human rights.

As for the debate of the veil being progressive or not, or being in the garb of Islam or not, it remains securely in the fold of anyone who has a uterus and defines herself as a Muslim. To resolve it, or to not resolve it, that fork of evolution needs time. Force didn’t help the practice of bloodletting nor will it help French authorities sleep better because the-Muslims-are-coming nightmare is at bay. We the women ought to be the authors of this script not the courts.

Whereas France’s paranoia is understandable, its chronic fear and loathing of Muslims means that it needs to go back to the French revolution to understand its most acute lesson: Fear never perpetrates peace, it begets anarchy.



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