The ban is a hard manifestation of how European governments have taken a securitised view of Muslim practice and behaviour, adopting an approach to women’s choice of what to wear that can only be described as tyrannical and a regression in terms of women’s rights. It is a potent manifestation of the desire for cultural and political dominance, driven by patriarchy and Islamophobia.
This is no random happening. We have now moved into an era where the male-dominated military-industrial complex has the upper hand in a climate of fear, and where visible signs of Islamic practice are viewed as a threat, and an indicator of radicalisation.
This state of play antagonises Muslims, by cementing the assertion that Muslims are a problem community – and especially picks on Muslim women. This flawed securitised approach has underlined much of the processes that form PREVENT, a policy that through a questionable empirical basis has criminalised ordinary Muslim practice and behaviour. The French ban is similar in principle to PREVENT, because like the British policy, the burkini ban seeks to socially engineer Muslim behaviour and bring religious and cultural practice in line with the secular, thereby refining and reforming Islam into something that is approved of and sanctioned by the state. Where in Britain the government has a more subtle and underhand approach to directing and manufacturing consent within the Muslim community, the French have taken a much harder line.
This securitisation is led by the neoconservative lobby, and is perfectly in line with the words of pundits such as Douglas Murray of the right wing neoconservative Henry Jackson Society who has said that “conditions must be made harder across the board for Muslims in Europe”. It is particularly cruel – but also typically cowardly – that this process has now singled out Muslim women for bullying.
Like PREVENT, the burkini ban is fanned by existing Islamophobia. Local leaders are being held hostage by Islamophobes and racists. A judge in Bastia, Corsica ruled that “strong emotions” persisted on the Mediterranean island and that the ban should remain, saying that repealing the ban would result in violence between local communities and French of North African origin.
Instead of favouring an approach that would bring on reconciliation between two opposing communities – which may require more ingenuity but would have a far more beneficial long term outcome, not to mention be an example the rest of Europe could follow – the judge has chosen a route that will only worsen relations by capitalising on existing divides. All of this is done in an atmosphere of fear and a male-dominated political landscape.
Antagonising communities threatens to isolate and drive to violence more than anything else
Fear feeds power. This regressive policy cuts to the heart of the women’s movement – for decades women fought for the freedom to wear what they wished to wear. We cannot go back to the days when male-dominated authorities police what women wear. The burkini is a choice. Religious expression more broadly, is a choice and to police choice is a tenement of totalitarian regimes. How can the West determine that some regimes are wrong for allegedly ruling that women must wear burqas, when they themselves are adopting the same approach but in the reverse?
Most importantly, antagonising communities threatens to isolate and drive to violence more than anything else
The key out of this quagmire is to address the root grievances at the heart of Muslim communities in Europe which are causing friction with the state – that of continuing disenfranchisement and an aggressive foreign and domestic policy that seems entirely directed against Muslims. Most of all, Muslim communities must be allowed to retain their integrity. The right to choose what to wear is very much a part of this.
Social engineering policies such as banning the burkini and PREVENT have no place in an open and just society. They can be easily extended to include other forms of religious and cultural expression, and in this way poses a danger to us all.
(CC image courtesy of Bruno Sanchez-Andrade Nuño on flikr)
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