I have countless fond memories of ‘child me’ swimming by the beach in the south of France. It was something we'd do every year as a family for as long as I can remember. My mother and I would go for a splash, though she only ever dipped her toes in the water, whilst sporting her normal clothes and hijab.
No one ever looked twice or discriminated against us for dressing modestly on the beach. I felt safe and free - something that I loved about France. I felt I could express my individuality without having to compromise my beliefs.
Last week I was horrified as I learnt that France had banned the use of the increasingly popular burkini, which was the answer for Muslim women who wanted to swim at public beaches and maintain their modesty. Coming from an Algerian background, I know that France has a large north-African and Muslim population, which made me even more surprised to learn that 64% of French people are in favour of the ban.
After the extremist attack in Nice last month, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls stated that the burkini represents the 'enslavement of women'. This insinuates that women who dress modestly on the beach are on the same platform as extremist fundamentalists who carry out hate attacks. Regardless of faith, this is wrong and infringes on a persons right to choose how they dress for something as casual as a day out at the beach. How would you feel if you were told you couldn't wear what you want every time you left your house?
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I strongly disagree with what I feel is direct discrimination against Muslims. If women can choose to wear a bikini on the beach then why can't they choose to wear something that is no different from a wetsuit? And if men can go surfing in a wetsuit then why is it banned for women, Muslim or otherwise? Has the French Government got a policy on how much skin you should show at the beach?
This won’t help relationships between non-Muslims and Muslims in France and will only create further tension and divide. This is a worldwide concern which raises the question of which country will be next to ban the hijab or burkini. The French government is no better than the Saudi or Iranian government that forces a woman to cover her hair, effectively taking away a woman’s right to make her own choices. Having banned the hijab from schools and offices and now even a public space such as the beach, you have to wonder what they’ll ban next and where we draw the line as a society.
Disheartened by this extreme and unnecessary law, I will be one of many people who will have no choice but to scratch off France as a holiday destination, a place that I thoroughly enjoyed. What’s really confused me is why when Nigella Lawson wore the burkini at the beach nobody labeled her as oppressed. Her reason for wearing it was to save her pale skin against the sun, but it shows double standards on society’s part.
Why is there this notion that Muslim women who choose to dress modestly are oppressed or enslaved? France needs to wake up and learn that Muslim women have their own reasons and shouldn't have to justify what they wear to make others feel more comfortable about themselves.