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Ban the burkini ban: How the same decision that claims to liberate women actually oppresses them

Objecting to the ban on the burkini should be the quest of every woman.

In 2004 I was in France reporting on the Cannes Advertising Festival on behalf of ArabAd Magazine, not only as an Arab, but also as a Muslim woman and a veiled one. For a whole week I was following up on the Arab delegation, arranging interviews with winners and even scoring with the festival’s highest rank and advertising celebrities. I was very proud of myself and thought I deserved a day off before traveling back to Lebanon.

Hanadi Chehabeddine

Nice, as the closest town to Cannes, was my leisure destination and I enjoyed wandering aimlessly at its charming Sunday market. The craft kiosks lining up next to farmers’ colorful produce and eclectic bags fascinated me. I looked forward to having breakfast at one of the local cafés. As I was entering the establishment, a long skinny waitress blocked my way and said in a snooty French accent: “Where are you going?” I said naively, “I want to have breakfast.” She said, “The restaurant is booked.” I looked around and saw people coming in and out freely. Clearly the restaurant was not booked. The waitress turned to me and huffed, “People like you have no place in this restaurant.”

Back in my hotel room, I cried my eyes out. I vowed that night never to be quieted again.

The animosity toward Muslims in France dates to long before recent terrorists attacks. The ban on “conspicuous religious symbols,” including headscarves in 2004 and the full-face covering in 2011, was the start. Its latest iteration bans the burkini, a swimwear designed to cover most of the body worn primarily by Muslim women. The religious obligation for women to cover their bodies stems from the concept of modesty that Muslim women believe in — in simple terms, converging the attention on women’s thoughts rather than their bodies and bodily assets. Objecting to the ban on the burkini should be the quest of every woman.

Double standards

This decision exposes the West to double standards, furthering discussions on the clash of civilizations. In most cultures, isn’t a woman free to wear whatever she wants? Isn’t a Muslim woman’s body her own and isn’t she free to claim it in totality and proclaim it as private property the very same way a so-called “liberal” woman proclaims her private parts as private?

The West is still struggling with women’s freedom, and this decision proves it. Why is it that 21st-century male state officials are deciding what parts of a woman’s body she should show or cover? Where is the feminist movement in this? Isn’t the ban on the burkini another way of forcing women to strip?

The ban on the burkini is troublesome, to say the least. The Muslim women who have fled patriarchal communities are facing a different kind of oppression in the West, specifically in Europe, one that imposes a specific oppressive ideology in the name of freedom. France is failing to acknowledge its religion of “no religion.” Is it hypocritical of France to oppose the very same values it preaches?

Rights protected in U.S.

I thank God for the U.S. Constitution. I truly do. The great country I live in guarantees my right to practice freely and display the beauty of my religion without advocating for it in governmental institutions, whatever my religion is. Our founding fathers got it right and I believe this is why the U.S. is far better at dealing with terrorism than Europe. That is unless Donald Trump becomes president.

My headscarf is my invisible crown. I take pride in covering my body so people can focus more on what I say and be less critical of my shape. My body image is totally my own and I am not fighting the society to prove my size is appropriate or perfect in its imperfections. My body is simply mine.

Hanadi Chehabeddine is an award-winning public speaker and writer. She recently received the Eden Prairie Human Rights award 2016 for her efforts to dismantle misconceptions about Islam and build bridges of unity. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in International leadership at the University of St. Thomas. Before coming to the U.S., she was an award-winning creative and communication specialist working across different media.


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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 08/29/2016 - 11:35 am.

    Burkini ban

    I’m inclined to agree. The burkini strikes me as yet another example of *religious* oppression of women, which, in my view, is just as pernicious as state oppression of women, but religious expression is protected by the 1st Amendment, so if one’s religion oppresses women, then there’s little the state (meaning the government) can do about it. That Muslim women (and some reactionary Christian sects, as well) voluntarily endure this sort of thing is sad, but they’re entitled to (in fact, guaranteed) that choice. I agree that a double standard seems to be in play in France regarding how women may or should dress for outdoor activity, including swimming, and I’d not like to see something similar put in place, even temporarily, in this country.

  2. Submitted by Dennis Litfin on 08/29/2016 - 01:18 pm.

    I have read sev. articles

    on this topic and have yet to read the essence of the ruling. Is it because they may have a suicide vest on underneath … someone may be carrying a concealed weapon here in the U.S.A. ?

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/29/2016 - 04:48 pm.

      Nothing that Nuanced

      The French bans are nothing more than bigotry. It is a way of shaming Muslims, especially women.

      Security has nothing to do with this.

  3. Submitted by John Evans on 08/29/2016 - 06:32 pm.

    Ban the burkini ban

    Sorry, I don’t buy it. First, article begins with an anecdote that is not especially relevant to the issue: Anti-Muslim prejudice in France is ugly and complicated. But if this is an argument about the burkini ban, the restaurant story is a canard.

    You want to be free to have your thoughts judged by what you say, rather than by your body shape. But this “concept of modesty” is fundamentally coerced. It is in the practice of Islam that women are not free to leave their hair and skin visible under threat of beating, rape, and ostracism from family and community.

    This is tragic for all Muslim women, but especially for young girls growing up today. Would you extend this tragedy to young Muslim girls growing up in France and in the US?

    This “modesty” is also fundamentally coercive. By speaking only from under cover; by maintaining your cover even at the beach, it is as if you’re wearing a sign that says, “only women and girls who expose their hair and skin should be beaten and raped.”

    Of course the burkini ban infringes on your right to wear what you want; but when you stand up for that right, you do so very much at the expense of every other Muslim woman’s fundamental rights.

  4. Submitted by Roy Everson on 08/30/2016 - 04:31 am.

    Beach fashion

    It’s sad that many oppressed people find ways to justify their oppression. The liberation of Muslim women is used to justify the ban, but unfortunately the ban is largely a lame excuse for anti-Muslim politicians to gain points with voters shaken by acts of terror. When totally covered Catholic nuns show up on the beach, as they do in France, you don’t hear a peep.

    “People can focus more on what I say and be less critical of my shape.” That gets to the nut of the whole thing: if I don’t bow to these clothing demands there will be repercussions. Yet usually the face is exposed, and often the feet and ankles. Are these not “bodily assets” as well? Or a woman’s voice? Shrill, sweet, melodic, soothing?

    So wear a burkini and revel in religious freedom, but don’t pretend it’s a “free” choice.

    • Submitted by Howard Miller on 08/30/2016 - 01:20 pm.

      who’s choice, government or the individual?

      You suspect that wearing a burkini is not exercise of free choice by the Muslim woman wearing it. That is worthy of discussion and debate, but really is a side issue here. The real issue is, can French municipal governments ban certain womens’ clothing styles on public beaches, when it is tied to one religious faith, and when the clothing style itself is entirely modest and without implication for social problems? In the US it is clear – cities enjoy no such rights. Don’t know French law, but the French tend to be sensible sorts. In the case of banning modest burkini style swim wear on public beaches, they show that some French citizens have lost their minds and their perspectives on individual freedom versus government control. Allowing – or banning – burkinis on French beaches will have no direct impact on whether or when terrorists strike at more French citizens. A ban will only demonstrate that the French have lost sight of their national motto, liberty, equality, fraternity, when deciding on such bans. Sad, and foolish, for France.

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