Supporters of the burkini, the full-body bathing suit traditionally donned by Muslim women, received some good news last week. The French ban on the swimwear had been overturned by the country's State Council. But this good news was dampened by some mayors' persistence in refusing women the right to wear what they choose. What was supposed to become a nationwide precedent on the subject has instead sparked renewed debate, with many of the offending 30 coastal resorts refusing to lift their bans on the burkini. Though the enforcement of the burkini ban is now in jeopardy, France has proven it still has a long way to go.
The France State Council ruling last week stated that any attempt to outlaw the burkini was a "serious and manifestly illegal violation of fundamental freedoms." The ruling only applied to the resort of Villeneuve-Loubet, but the Council expected that their decision would become the norm for the other areas that had the ban in place. Instead, many of the mayors of the seaside resorts have fought back, citing France's militant protection of laïcité (secularism) as their reasoning for doing so. The burkini, they argue, is a symbol of women's oppression and a politicized Islam (the same Islam which they believe resulted in the terrorist attacks in Nice last month).
One French official, former president of the Les Republicains party Nicolas Sarkozy, went so far as to flippantly suggest that France's ruling law could be changed in order to keep the ban in place: "So what, change the constitution." In an interview with the French station RTL Radio, Sarkozy went on to say that the burkini is "a provocation by an Islam that is political, extreme, and is testing the limits of the republic."
Gil Bernardi, the mayor of Le Lavandou, has also fought to keep the ban in her beaches. According to The Los Angeles Times, Bernardi stated: "The beach is a place to relax, not a place of ideological or religious confrontation. A large black outfit has no place on the beach or in the water. It could be interpreted as a provocation."
From these reactions, it's pretty clear just what — or rather, whom — these French officials likely view as a provocation. This pushback against the State Council's ruling exposes a clear flaw in militant secularism: When implemented with dogmatic fervor, it becomes just as oppressive as the religious ideologies it fights to curb.
The Islamophobia practiced by these French officials has therefore crept its way into their liberalism. In this way, Muslim women are damned if they do, and damned if they don't. Only choice, not secularism, truly gives women the opportunity to be free.