(CNN) When France enacted its ban on “ostentatious symbols” in public schools in 2004, the so-called “veil ban” was justified under the guise of a warped form of European cultural relativism. It’s just the French way, you see.
Forget the burkini ban: France’s Muslims have much bigger problems
Over the years, legislation in France has continued to encroach into the private sphere of Muslim citizens, with a keen focus on women.
Muslim women in headscarves have been prohibited from working in private nurseries. Mothers in headscarves have been banned from school outings. Women in face veils are prohibited from walking the streets, using hospitals or public transport. Students in long skirts are sent home for wearing “religious clothing.” Non-pork alternatives have been removed from school menus.
And all the while, the mantle of “Laïcité” — the formal declaration of France as a secular republic — has been served to rebuff any accusation that the laws were actually targeting France’s largest religious minority.
Laïcité, France’s modern religion, was heralded as the kind of cultural specificity that could justify trumping some pretty fundamental human rights, from freedom of conscience to freedom of religion. It’s kind of like Iran’s imposition of the veil on the basis of a politicized conception of Islam, but with significantly more sympathetic op-eds.
To quote the French feminist Christine Delphy, in France today, “the dominant demand that the dominated … be like them. And if you don’t play along, well, then it’s only normal that you don’t have the right — among other things — to vote, (…) get a promotion, have a decent home, get a job suiting your qualifications.”
Or even to sit on a beach. This summer France reached a new low, with some beach towns in the south of the country prohibiting women from covering themselves with head-to-toe swimsuits nicknamed “burkinis.” No dogs and no Muslims, the signs could have read.
Authorities cited security as the reason for harassing not just any women, but very specifically Muslim women, as if somehow their mere existence posed a serious threat to public order.
To justify disrobing women on public beaches, the French prime minister Manuel Valls invoked the July attack in Nice — as if the latest security briefings were suggesting that Daesh, or ISIS, was using women in burkinis to launch attacks.
In fact, it was the French authorities using burkinis as their latest excuse to harass Muslim citizens, drawing a dangerous line between some women’s choice of beach wear and terrorism.
Valls may have said Islam is welcome in France, but let’s be clear: The only Islam acceptable in France today is an invisible Islam. When France colonized Algeria, Algerian citizens could apply for French citizenship only if they reneged their Muslim identity. Today, in a France of over 5 million Muslims, it seems that a very similar rule applies.
A human rights group, the Collective against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), recorded 905 Islamophobic incidents in the country in 2015.