The ban on the burkini: Is it against women’s oppression or Islam?

The ban against the swim wear is being seen widely as Islamophobic.
The ban on the burkini: Is it against women’s oppression or Islam?
The ban on the burkini: Is it against women’s oppression or Islam?
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French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has supported the ban issued in several parts of the country against the burkini, but ruled out government legislation on the matter.

The burkini is a wet suit which covers the entire body except for the face, hands and toes. 

While Villeneuve-Loubet, Cannes, and Sisco have put a ban on the burkini, Le Touquet is reportedly planning to do the same.

For the PM, the burkini is an expression of a political and counter-society project founded mainly on the enslavement of women.

French law bans the niqab -- a veil worn by some Muslim women in public, covering all of the face apart from the eyes - in the country's streets, while the veil and other religious symbols are prohibited in educational centres.

Valls said he understood the mayors who, during these tense times, were looking to avoid public order problems and that he supported their decision to ban the garment.

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The ban comes after a string of terror attacks in the country in the recent past which have given rise to religious tensions in the country. 

Many in France reportedly see the public display of faith by Muslims as a contradiction to the country’s secularism.

However, the ban has also garnered significant attention internationally, online and offline, with many calling it "religious oppression". 

Writer Sharanya Manivannan calls the ban “blatantly islamophobic”.

"A wetsuit with goggles covers just as much if not more of the body. It's also misogynistic, because being unable to wear her attire of choice to the beach or pool is likely to keep many women away from swimming altogether. And even if it's not strictly a choice: how different is forcing a woman into a burqa than forcing a woman out of it?" asks Sharanya, a well-known poet who frequently writes on gender and culture.

She also points out that clothing and conservatism are two very separate issues, which we often end up mixing. 

"We certainly conflate conservatism with clothing that offers full coverage, when in fact a range of reasons apply. What if a woman wears it because she can enjoy herself without pressure to conform to certain beauty standards? What if a woman just likes the way it looks, because it makes her feel like a deep sea diver?," she asks. 

In an article for The New York Times, Alissa J Rubin writes “that there is no clear definition of what qualifies as a burkini, and that Muslim women have complained of being singled out on beaches even when covered by other kinds of garments". She feels that this has "raised the question of whether the increasing number of bans are meant to signal France’s demand for conformity with its non-Muslim majority or are genuinely part of France’s culture of laïcité, or secularism in public life".

Origin of the burkini

The burkini comes from Australia and was designed by Aheda Zanetti, a Lebanese-Australian designer, in 2003.

Zanetti (38) migrated from Lebanon when she was two years old. 

On her website, she writes that growing up in Australia, she noticed that Muslim girls and women who practiced their faith often missed out on opportunities in sporting activities in the country.

She was supposedly inspired by watching her niece playing netball in a traditional Hijab/Veil to begin a search for sporting garments suitable for Muslim women. When her search yielded no results, she came up with the burkini which she says is a garment that will blend in with the Australian lifestyle.

After TV chef Nigella Lawson sported the burkini in 2011, and British retailer Marks and Spencer introduced a burkini range, it only added to the popularity of the swimwear. 

Over the years, it also found a customer base in non-Muslim women who took to the burkini to cover up their curves or protect their skin against the sun.

Speaking of the discussion around the burkini in France currently, Zanetti told WP, "It's deja vu. Before it was quite positive. Now everyone thinks we're hiding bombs in our burkinis."

In an interview with Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, she added, “You don't have to be a Muslim to be a terrorist. You don't have to be a Muslim to hide a bomb. You don't have to be a Muslim to create trouble. Really, I can hide a bomb in my undies. I can! I can walk around with my undies on and hide a bomb in them. Really. Bombs are getting smaller and sharper. You know, I can hide it there. Do you understand what I'm saying? People are transferring drugs from one corner to another through just swallowing them in their gut, for gosh sake. I mean, grow up! Really.”

(IANS inputs)

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