With burkini bans spreading in France, there's finally a rational voice to consider — albeit one coming from the other side of the Atlantic. Nice became the latest city along the Mediterranean in France to ban the burkini, a full-body women's bathing suit. The trend follows a number of terrorist attacks in the country; one of the most deadly occurred along the Nice waterfront last month, leaving 86 dead. But burkinis — or Muslims, for that matter — should not be held responsible for this. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's response to the burkini laws explains exactly why banning swimwear doesn't mesh with his country's values.
Trudeau gave the comment when asked about the matter following a meeting to plan his government's legislative agenda. Evidently, some politicians in French-speaking Quebec have already called to introduce a burkini ban there, following the some 15 French cities that already have them in place. Trudeau explained plain as day why such a law has no place in Canada:
We should be past tolerance in Canada... In Canada, can we speak of acceptance, openness, friendship, understanding? It is about where we are going and what we are going through every day in our diverse and rich communities.
He went on to point out that "the respect of individual rights and choices" should be central to political discourse around such matters. He sarcastically hit the nail on the head painting the situation in France: "Tolerating someone means accepting their right to exist on the condition that they don't disturb us too, too much." His point is that a government that undermines individual rights is far from tolerant.
And he's right. The French are trying to keep the France of old, from before its population became more diverse — ethnically and religiously. Not to mention the fact that vacationers from around the world fly to its world-famous beaches. Amanda Taub interviewed Professor Terrence Peterson for The New York Times. Peterson, a professor at Florida International University and an expert on France's relationship with its Muslims immigrants, told The Times that the ban is a sign that the French can't handle their changing country.
"These sorts of statements are a way to police what is French and what is not French," he told the paper. Taub broke down his argument, explaining that during the colonial era, when France controlled the now-independent Muslim nations of Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco, the veil was seen as a sign of backwardness. French women's more open clothing was a sign of superiority.
That seems to be the current argument, too. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls made the argument that the burkini won't work with French values: "It is not compatible with the values of France and the Republic. Faced with these provocations, the Republic must defend itself. Today, Muslims in France are taken hostage by these groups, these associations, these individuals who advocate for wearing the Burqini and would have you believe that the Republic and Islam are incompatible."
But really the only thing making Islam and France incompatible is this sort of discriminatory legislation. "Women's rights imply the right for a woman to cover up," Rim-Sarah Alouane, a professor of religious freedom at the University of Toulouse, told the Associated Press. She said that the burkini allows religious women to reconcile their faith with beach culture. "What is more French than sitting on a beach in the sand? We are telling Muslims that no matter what you do ... we don't want you here," she said.
That should be the last message given to any minority population from the government. It's good to see that Trudeau understands this. We should fully embrace the cultural heritage of all immigrants, not legislate it away in hopes of assimilation. The burkini hasn't become an issue yet in the United States — any sort of ban would certainly be considered unconstitutional under the First Amendment — so we probably won't hear President Obama's thoughts on the matter any time soon. But it's good to know there's a prominent voice against it, given the general acceptance of the bans in France.