La belle France. I adore you, I seriously do. You have it all, history, beauty, style, culture, literature and an enviable laissez fair attitude that the rest of the world can only dream of imitating.
So when you started rather ungraciously to ban burkinis from your beaches last month I was left slightly confused. I cried with the world after the shootings in Paris, and the attack in Nice shocked and sickened me to my core, an attack on people celebrating and joyous, innocent of the fucked up misplaced religious (or not) ideology that was about to change their lives forever. But let’s think about what you were celebrating on Bastille Day.. Liberté, égalité, fraternité- liberty, equality, brotherhood- the French slogan born from the ashes of the French Revolution. The very things that make you great, the very essence of what your country is and who your people are.
There has been a troubling rise in right wing ideology in Europe in the last decade, an uncomfortable trend considering the events that are barely long enough ago to have passed into history. France has its fair share of social problems, and it’s easy for a disillusioned population to blame the new, the different, the veiled, for these issues. Among other gestures, France banned the (Muslim) head scarf in an effort to protect laïcité, or secularism, which has been around since 1905. The danger here is that such laws are open to interpretation, and are somewhat at the mercy of the national zeitgeist. I don’t like burkas or any symbol of religious oppression of women. Hell, I’m not a big fan of religion full stop. But to intimidate a woman on a beach and strip her of her garments is aggressive, misinformed and against everything France fought for. The burkini covers no more of a woman than a wetsuit, a kaftan, or a nun’s habit for that matter. This is not about protecting women from religious oppression, this is about protecting Frenchness. The acceptable yet narrow collective assimilation of what is means to act, look and be French is under threat, and the burkini ban, in a country that already struggles to maintain its nationality in the face of communitarianism, is a knee jerk reaction to the Nice attack in the most childish and thoughtless of ways.
The ban has since been officially lifted, deemed to be against the law by the French courts, though some beach towns have remained defiant, determined to celebrate the collective female freedom of flesh by prescribing in what way to display it.
As often with troubled époques, where social, historical, political and economic issues collide, the world watches closely, and a nation’s actions and choices are put on trial by the global populous. France, this as a time to show the world your strengths- your liberty, equality, love and brotherhood, in the face of threats perceived or real. Now is the time more than ever to pull each other closer, embrace difference, recognize and appreciate the contribution that your disparate cultural mix affords you. Thumb your collective nose at those who would seek to separate, provoke and indeed kill you, and go and soak up the beauty of your beaches, and all the people who celebrate life there.