France's recent spate of imposing bans on the burkini has been met with a range of responses, from outright hostility to encouraging sentiments around upholding values of secularism. The latest person to weigh in against the burkini ban is J.K. Rowling, the internet's go-to guru on current issues, via her Twitter account.
The ban is currently in place in more than 20 French municipalities, and while the question of its legal grounding is being debated, it is still currently being upheld. On Tuesday, images of police forcing a Muslim woman to take off part of her burkini went viral online, and since then, many commentators have expressed problems with the ban.
France's secularism has been evidenced multiple times in the recent past — the country was in the spotlight in both 2004 and 2010 for banning religious symbols in schools and colleges, as well as for banning the full-face veil. France's population has a comparatively high proportion of people with no religious affiliation, with International Business Times reporting that 63 percent of French youth claim that they don't belong to any religion. Many local authorities and mayors have vocally supported the burkini ban, but French Muslims have spoken out, and they believe that they are being targeted unfairly. It looks like J.K. Rowling agrees, as she tweeted early Thursday.
The tweet reads: "So Sarkozy calls the burkini a 'provocation.' Whether women cover or uncover their bodies, seems we're always, always 'asking for it.'"
This is in response to former French President Nicholas Sarkozy's controversial remark in a TV interview Wednesday. He called the burkini swimsuit a "provocation" which upholds the radicalism of Islam, and said that "we don't imprison women behind fabric." There seems to be an inherent tension between telling women what they can and cannot wear in a public place and claiming to be giving them ideological liberation, and Muslim women around the world have expressed concern and anger over the bans.
In an interview with the BBC, Aysha Ziauddin from Norfolk, U.K. said, "The burkini allows me the freedom to swim and go on the beach, and I don't feel I am compromising my beliefs for that. ... How is a woman on a beach swimming in a wetsuit with her head covered a symbol of Islamic extremism?" Similarly, Sabrina Akram of Massachusetts said that she wears a burkini and loves it. "It's not the responsibility of a public servant to dictate how I choose to cover my body," she told the BBC.
The burkini ban is being contested by its critics, and has been taken to France's Council of State on Thursday, with a decision expected soon. Whether the ban will be ruled unconstitutional is still up in the air, but it's important to consider Rowling's message as a reminder of the continuing policing of women's bodies and space around the world.