Liberté, égalité, fraternité. These are the words behind the 1789 French revolution, a movement that abolished the monarchy and established a secular and democratic republic and the liberation of the people from monarchist repression. Recent events concerning the banning of the ‘burkini’ have thrown these values and France’s ‘secularism’ in to question. What must be discussed now is whether or not the French government is really committed to these values.
French Prime minister, Manuel Valls, stated on the 18th of August that wearing a burkini was “not compatible with the values of the French Republic”. Calls to ban Islamic religious symbols in public have risen since 85 people were killed by a truck on Bastille Day in Nice last month, such bans have been imposed by municipal authorities in 15 towns. It is clear that this event and others have been capitalised on by anti-Islamic and far-right parties in France and worldwide for that matter, for example, the likes of Marine Le Pen have been able to bang their drum about Islamic doctrine being against French secularism. This publicity has indeed had a strong impact on French public opinion.
Nice, the latest French city to have imposed this ban, has now seen an innocent Muslim woman on Tuesday being terrorised by four police officers near the scene of terrorist attack on the city in July. The women (even though not in a “burkini”) is pictured being humiliated as she is forced to undress for the given reason that her attire may ‘offend’ other beach-goers who were seen applauding the officers during the incident. A witness stated that an officer was standing by with his finger on the trigger of a tear gas device as she was issued a €38 fine. This shows the evolving nature of how Muslims are being treated: these incidents are no longer as isolated in Western society as one would hope. France especially, which prides itself on its freedom of religious worship, has completely thrown these values out of the window in a thinly-veiled attempt to counteract terrorism and to supposedly to reinforce French ideals. It is also useful to note that currently the German Reichstag is discussing the possibility of taking a more hard-line approach to security threats and suggestions have been made that conscription should be introduced and the population should be advised to stockpile recommended food and other essential supplies in case of a mass-effect terrorist attack.
These authoritarian legislative moves are fuelling a division in France, and the countries that follow them, in order to create an atmosphere of pseudo-security. It should be obvious to anyone that cohesion is vital at the moment especially. Parallels can easily be drawn here. French authorities, much like Trump in the USA, are making it acceptable to stigmatise minority groups in society even though they are also at risk from the same evils, the media and public have neglected this axiom, they have been led to believe that Muslims are somehow immune from terrorist attacks. Alienating a group of harmless people will not solve the on-going issue of terrorism, it’s counter-productive and will only exacerbate the problem because it targets the majority of Muslims who are moderate. How can France expect to come to any sort of resolution when they are currently creating two juxtaposing camps within their own society?
This is a further step towards what could be construed as fascism. Since 2011, with the banning of the wearing of the niqab in public, 15 municipal councils in France now dictate what can and cannot be worn on the beach, and as a result are enforcing on visitors a “western dress code”, which seems to consist of flaunting one’s body with skimpy clothing – which is apparently a symbol of freedom. The irony here is that parties such as far-right Front National are against Muslim men dictating what women wear in their culture, but don’t hesitate to play that exact role which they are supposed to be opposing. What is the next step from here? Is France going to dictate what people wear in the street? These are the actions of an increasingly oppressive state disguised as “anti-extremism”, not liberalism and certainly not the values which brought the 5th French Republic into existence: Liberté, égalité, fraternité.