Liberté, Egalité, Conformité: Burkini Ban Contests Western Values

The French burkini ban is sold as a tool for safeguarding our bodily well-being and liberal freedoms, but it is exactly these kinds of extreme right policies that threaten our way of life.

Reading the news this morning about police officers targeting a Muslim woman on the beach in Nice, left me somewhat numb. Since a few weeks, French cities are allowed to ban people from the beach who are wearing a burkini. The woman in question was wearing a tunica, but that didn’t seem to matter. She was forced to take it off. The extremism of some has led the mayor of Nice, and others alike him, to introduce a new form of apartheid within the European Union, and the French beach is the first place where people with the wrong belief and appearance are no longer welcome.

So the question comes to mind - are there really people in the world that believe that singling out mothers on the beach will win us the “war on terrorism”? Surely not, it seems more like a retribution attempt, where one group is being singled out and made into a scapegoat.

This is something that affects us all, as it is our neighbours and friends that are being targeted on arbitrary grounds. As people interested in urbanism, defined by the Oxford Dictionary as ‘the way of life characteristic of cities and towns’, it should be high on our agenda. It is exactly the free, diverse, and cosmopolitan way of life that is under threat.

A few days ago a French woman was interviewed on TV, giving an argument that is often heard. According to her, the burkini is against the freedom that French women have fought for so long – sitting scarcely clad on the beach, for instance.

Although there is nothing wrong with sitting half naked on the beach, this is just one form of expressing the freedom that was fought for. In effect the ban is denying many people of exercising their own freedom of expressing who they really are. A few decades ago we were having the opposite discussion (see tweet).

Of course, it is a bit ironical that this is going on in the country of liberté, égalite, and fraternité, as most of those values now seem under threat and on their way to be replaced with conformité.

The liberal freedoms that people in the west really fought for are best described by article 10 in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, that states:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right includes freedom to change religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or in private, to manifest religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance”.

These core values of our western world are now contested by the extreme right. The change of these values forms a much larger threat to our way of life than a woman spending a nice day at the beach with her children, free to wear whatever she wants. Let’s not turn our cities into uniform oppressed places, but fight for real freedom and diversity.

(Picture by Charles Roffey)


Written by Sascha Benes. Follow him on Twitter and Linkedin