Edwin Nasr: Five Points on France and the ‘Burkini’ Ban

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Managed to find a blurred version of the now-infamous image of the lady surrounded by armed policemen in Nice, France.

The ‘Burkini’ ban in (so far) 15 French cities has recently made headlines again as footage of four armed male policemen forcing a Muslim woman to undress publicly in a beach in Nice surfaced online. The footage has sparked outraged online as anyone following the #BurkiniBan hashtag on Twitter can realize.

There are enough articles online on this story but I thought it’d be a good idea to feature an interesting perspective on the topic. Luckily, Edwin Nasr wrote a Facebook status with his ‘5 points’ on the ‘Burkini’ ban. It’s been republished here with his permission.


  1. Few have shed light on France’s insistency – which we can trace back to the Napoleonic era – on codifying bans related to tools that aim to disrupt the free flow of the male gaze. Unfortunately, the rare commentators who have are going down a slippery of slope of inadvertent promotion of the ” burkini” as an anti-patriarchal weapon, which is equally problematic. Contextualization is key. Championing lifestyle politics as necessary tools of resistance, by way of choice of clothing in this case, does more harm than good as it seeks to trivialize the structural mechanisms that reproduce both racist and patriarchal oppression.
  2. This isn’t a direct attack on Islam as much as it seems to be a continuation of the French state’s colonial, clearly insatiable obsession with “civilizing” its (now former) colonial subjects, particularly ones who happen to be Muslim women. The object of the veil in contemporary France reawakened its fetish for colonial enterprise, which in part explains the country’s foray into nationalist biopolitics.
  3. In the photo above, French policemen are literally undressing a woman in a public space. Liberal French feminists who were once concerned with the veil’s “oppressive” connotations cannot afford to dismiss the violent symbolism that is contained within this act. We are literally witnessing, through the visual documentation of said act, the process of reclamation of a woman’s body by a repressive state apparatus.
  4. Calling France an Islamophobic state is an incomplete statement. It doesn’t really matter if it has an aversion to Islam as a religion or not. What matters, to me, is the following: France is a racist state, one that has otherized its non-white residents to the point of dehumanization throughout the 20th century and going into our current one. Only the “assimilated” other is deemed worthy of mercy. Muslim women are automatically racialized, and therefore controlled, when they are seen wearing a veil, or in this case a burkini, simply because the French state deems itself entitled to take it off. After all, it is a piece of clothing. If it could paint a black French citizen/migrant/refugee white, I’m pretty sure it would. This attests to the violence of neocolonial assimilation à la française.
  5. Following decolonization, France has loosened its immigration laws as a way to import Maghrebian labor en masse. Since the majority of the country’s Muslim population is North African, it is safe to say they constitute an important part of its lower classes. Banning the burkini in public beaches ultimately serves to exclude proletarian and lower middle class Muslim women from non-privatized or state-owned spheres. Therefore, it is undoubtedly a classist measure.

Hummus For Thought has previously republished a piece by Edwin Nasr entitled “On the sex trafficking ring bust in Maameltein” and it was translated to Arabic by  Al Manshour.

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  1. France is not a racist state. If it were, assimilation would be objectively impossible. How is a black person supposed to “assimilate” in a truly racist France, after all? He can’t change his skin colour. He will always be black. But the writer himself conceded that assimilation is very much possible (i.e. ” Only the “assimilated” other is deemed worthy of mercy”), so race cannot be the operative factor here, a fact easily evidenced by the fact that white female Muslim converts are also equally affected by the ban. Class is not a factor, either. If Carla Bruni were to wear the burkini on a public beach, she would still face the same consequences. So if the underlying impetus for the ban is neither race nor class, then what is it? Feminism. Anti-patriarchy. Gender equality. France is a relentlessly feminist state, so much so that it will rip the veil off a woman’s head itself if it has to. On the contrary, states like Iran and Saudi Arabia are relentlessly patriarchal states, so much so that they will impose the veil on a woman’s head themselves if they have to. Other factors — including religion — are simply, substantively irrelevant here. France is only a racist state if you similarly consider Iran a racist state for not allowing women to wear miniskirts in public, thereby excluding white female expats from public spaces, a thoroughly absurd proposition, born of ideology, not observation; of reading too much postmodernism in university and not enough seeing — simply, empirically. As the classical Buddhist philosopher Buddhapalita once said, “Unskilled persons whose eye of intelligence is obscured by the darkness of delusion conceive of an essence in things and then generate attachment and hostility with regard to them.” If that’s not what this is, then I don’t know what is.

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