The folly of the #Burkiniban

By Dr Rachel Bloul

France hates being laughed at, so what’s up with the burkini ban?

French people are rather full of their semi-glorious history (I know, I’m French myself) and do not admit willingly to being ridiculous, pompous semi-asses with a liberal serving of uneducated, low-class prejudices.

So have they lost their heads about the burkini?

Apparently so, as they seem blind to the disgraceful, grossly sexist, {they even have a term for it ‘gauloiserie‘ used to categorise the French male’s sense of sexual humour which they think is funny and robust but that most French women detest. Early French feminist, who inspired feminist revival in the 1960s, Simone de Beauvoir has commented extensively on this, mainly through her ground-breaking book, The Second Sex.

Displays of uncivilised brutality in saving popular morality by forcing burkini-ed women to undress in public? Why, these French cops could just as well be Americans! L’horreur!

Forcing women to unveil is embedded in French history


In an aim to ‘civilise’ the Algerians, when the country was still a colony, the French colonisers forcibly ‘freed’ Algerian women from their veils and were surprised by a certain lack of success!

The underlying theory was that if you get the women on your side (by ‘freeing them’), they will persuade their menfolk and here would be French Algeria.

The large emigration of Algerians and other North Africans to France created problems of ‘cultural assimilation’. The answer was to go back to the tried (and failed) ‘get the women on our side first’. Maybe they thought that the joys of living under French racism in France would have changed their minds?

L’affaire du voile

“The headmaster, the imam and the police commissioner want to know how you’re going to dress today”

The first contemporary veil ‘affaire’ was in 1989 when three schoolgirls came to the lycee with headscarves.

It occupied French newspapers’ front pages forever and a day. It was a constant source of public debate, where any man gave his opinion freely, very few feminine  voices were heard. I wrote about this in 1994.

The debate re-occurred periodically, like an itch that never really goes until well, now.

Of course recent French history of terrorist bombings doesn’t help. Such bombings started very early in France in the 1970s. They were linked in a general way to ‘Arabs’ though the first ones were inspired by Middle Eastern – rather than North African – issues.

But, attacks on French soil have been especially marked since the early 1980s. And the distinction between North African Arabs and Middle Eastern ones was an early casualty. Almost two generations is time enough to crystallise hatred and banish good sense.

So is France courting the ridicule of the world? Losing all sense of proportion?

Well maybe reminding the French of how pitifully grotesque their reactions are can help. It would probably help better than appeals to their good sense. This is the first rule of ‘dealing with traumas’. And somehow ‘veiled women as resisters to French benevolent rule’ is so embedded in French colonial scars that it qualifies as national trauma. Pitiful and grotesque, isn’t it?

Dr Rachel Bloul is a sociologist and genocide scholar, formerly at The Australian National University. Her specialisations are in Islam in the West, genocide, political fundamentalism and identity politics. She’s enjoying her retirement but she also likes to write every now and then.

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