We’re right to be shocked by the French burkini ban photos – whatever the Sun says

Those who see Muslim women as a threat are the ones 'sucked in by Islamist propaganda'


If a photograph of a woman in France being surrounded by armed policemen forcing her to remove her clothes made you feel outrage, then you’ve been ‘sucked in by Islamist propaganda’, argued Ann-Elisabeth Moutet in yesterdays Sun.

This is presumably because the woman in the picture is visibly Muslim. This is what happens when you start viewing Muslims as an Islamist threat, rather than as human beings.

The Sun article is a response to the story about a 34-year-old Muslim woman humiliated and fined for wearing a ‘DIY burkini’ on the beach – not even an actual burkini, an article of clothing banned in some parts of France for being against ‘good morals and secularism’.

France has deemed the Burkini ban ‘necessary, appropriate and proportionate’ to maintain public order. Seemingly, this ban has now been extended to include bright turquoise tunics and headscarves.

Some members of the public on the beach watching the incident reportedly felt so emboldened by the actions of the police, they started shouting abuse at the woman, telling her to ‘go home’ and that she wasn’t wanted there.

Clearly, the police felt that these people sporting government-approved beachwear posed no threat to public order.

The author argues that this was quite possibly a publicity stunt. The woman knew exactly what she was doing, lying there, on the beach, directly in the sun, doing absolutely nothing, wearing clothes (not even the banned burkini) and waiting for the police to approach her.

Even if this is the case, and I believe it could be, it proves one thing for sure: a visibly Muslim woman is for some an agitation in herself – she need not do or say a thing.

Further, having taken away the option for Muslim women who choose or feel obligated to cover to be able to wear clothing specifically designed for the beach, it is now apparently intolerable for Muslim women to find other means of covering up (such as a turquoise tunic) – driving them off the beach completely.

You do not have to agree with or support religion-based modesty codes to understand that for some Muslim women, very real distress is felt at even the thought of not being fully covered, let alone the possibility of being surrounded by men and being told to remove clothes.

For them, the burkini is a means of being able to join in with social activities, with friends and family, and society without having to feel they are exposing themselves. They would rather forgo coming out than be in public uncovered.

And as someone who was pressured to wear hijab for a number of years, I know that if they were banned off the beach, that would have been the end of beach trips for me.

So if the argument is to liberate women, it’s a weak one.

Harmful modesty doctrines designed to maintain control over women’s bodies cannot be effectively challenged by making it impossible for the women most at risk to engage with the rest of society.

Of course, there is also another section of women who are also impacted: Muslim women who just want to cover as a non-Muslim women might.

Islamists have politicised women’s bodies and clothing and now the French are following suit, also restricting the rights of Muslim women to dress themselves in a way they see fit.

Islamists for years and even more so in recent times have been pushing the notion that it is impossible to be Muslim and part of western society at the same time. Far right extremists will have you believe the same.

So if this Sun article is correct in its assertion that most of France supports the ban, it is those who cannot look at a visibly Muslim woman without seeing an Islamist threat who have been ‘sucked in by Islamist propaganda’ – and far right propaganda to boot.

The rest of us are simply expressing horror that in a liberal, democratic, enlightened country, women are being forced to undress in public because some us don’t like what they are wearing.

Yasmin Weaver is project manager at Inspire, a gender equality and counter-extremism organisation based in the UK

See: Sadiq Khan condemns ‘burkini’ ban ahead of Paris visit

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7 Responses to “We’re right to be shocked by the French burkini ban photos – whatever the Sun says”

  1. Sarah Brown

    Great post Yasmin. I like the approach of the women who campaigned outside the French Embassy. Rather than all wearing burkinis in solidarity, they wore what they want (which is the whole point) – so you got burkinis, bikinis and everything in between.

  2. CR

    It is not “progressive” to support the medieval misogyny of islam.
    It is not “progressive” to support an illiberal and repressive religion.

    We should be supporting the French in their attempt to maintain their secular traditions and values in the face of irrational ritual-superstition.

  3. Patrick Graham

    CR – you appear to be equating forcing people to undress on a beach at gunpoint with some kind of notion of freedom…
    Religious extremism is to be deplored – whether its Papists banning contraception, Scientologists enforcing slavery or Extremist Muslims imposing intolerable cruelty.

    By supporting the police in attacking people who belong to none of those groups, but are simply practising their secular freedom to be modest in public, you are supporting the extremism and anti-freedom idiocy of a paranoid state too blind to see the difference between people and a tiny minority of idiots who have misappropriated a religious banner.
    Doing this is to ridicule freedom and promote racist blindness.

  4. CR

    The burqa and burkini are symbolic attacks on western secular liberal values. Those that wear them are putting two fingers up to secular liberal society.

  5. James

    The whole thing of “liberation” as well as French identity is a hard subject. The picture makes it a bit easier.
    The French are quite obviously getting tribal on this with a zero tolerance policy towards overt religious symbolism. That has always been the case, and picture power comes into it again. I felt uncomfortable for the lady in question. I wonder if had there been a similar photo, some years back of a lady having to remove a veil in public, the same would have happened, but there was no such photo.
    The point of “a bad argument of liberating women” because they “are liberated anyway by going out covered up” is also a bad argument, and obviously an argument for covering women, together with a shrugging of the shoulders that it’s okay, when it’s possible the author knows full well that the covering is oppressive at source in the first place. That puts anyone with two opposing thoughts on the subject in a strange and difficult place.
    I don’t like (religious) coverings. I didn’t like the picture of the lady being made to undress. But I still don’t like coverings, and neither do the French, so maybe against better judgement, they have bitten the bullet on this. In the end, the burkini is tokenism, rather than a threat, and they have decided to get rid of that, unless in accepting, they then lose the argument against other overt religious symbolism in public and everything could unravel, taking “secular” power away to the joy of certain groups.

  6. Bitethehand

    All my life I have defied what I consider to be unjustifiably authoritarian authority (hence my own website) and it will probably be the last thing I do in my life – but hopefully not for some time yet.

    And I think you are failing to recognise that we don’t hang men from cranes for being homosexual or stone them to death for making love to someone they love, or slice off their hands for stealing food for their children, or put them up against the wall for opposing the government.

    And people who wear and display the symbols of their religion and the religious leaders who mete out the punishments for those indiscretions, also must expect to experience the inevitability of the courage of their convictions.

    And so far no one in recent times been burnt at the stake in France.

    We and you are far more civilised and we don’t do those things.

    And I don’t piss up the wall of the mosque because they won’t let me in to see the architecture because I’m not Muslim. I begrudgingly accept their right to be ignorant.

  7. michigan

    It seems to me that the commenters above have lost their sense of humour: the very visible (because turquoise, not black) burkini, indeed the whole notion of burkini, sends up the policing of what women wear. In the past, topless got you into trouble; now covering up does. As an overweight old women, I don’t want others to see me too-uncovered up, and I don’t want to see others, unless young and Bardot-like in figure.

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