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Is France Putting It's Own Democracy At Risk Over A Burkini?

01/09/2016 11:24 | Updated 01 September 2016

A French court has overturned a ban on Burkinis in Cannes. The tourist hot spot was the first of a number of resorts to implement the controversial ban which sparked outrage across the globe.

Mayors throughout France who backed the ban are refusing to lift the restrictions because of security concerns following a string of extremist attacks. This is despite the fact that the country's highest administrative courts have ruled that the bans are illegal, opening the state to a dilemma about how to react to the ban.

When President Francois Hollande previously declared that France was at war with ISIS he stated that the nation's democracy was at risk, so citizens should stand united 'because our unity is our strength.'

But is France in danger of putting such unity at risk? When we witness four armed officers ordering a woman to undress in public, one must ask how does this help promote national unity, which by definition must include people of all faiths and of no faith?

Rupert Colville, spokesman for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that the bans "fuel religious intolerance and the stigmatization of Muslims", and "have only succeeded in increasing tensions".

Much of this tension has been created largely because throughout this debate the definition and purpose of a burkini has been muddled as certain commentators have compared it to the catholic nun's habit which has also been banned on certain french beaches along with the burkini.

But unlike a Catholic nun's habit, the burkini is not a religious item of clothing. There are no Islamic teachings or instructions about it in the Qur'an. The burkini does not in any way replace the burqa, hijab or loose fitted clothing that Muslim women chose to wear on a day-to-day basis. It is a modern day design which complies with certain health and safety regulations and is worn not just by Muslim women, but those who chose to protect themselves from the dangers of excessive UVA exposure. Nigella Lawson, for example, always springs to mind when we think of the burkini.

Throughout its history France has known several periods during the Revolution and following the Separation of State and Church in 1905 during which religious habits were prohibited, however, banning of the burkini by right-wing mayors does not have much to do with that.

For some right wing thinkers the burkini is seen as a political statement and therefore a threat to France's laïcité, but the French Government's reaction will do little to tackle extremism. Something that is of universal importance, most of all to the scores of people, Muslim and non-Muslim alike who have been killed and displaced by the unmitigated violence disposed by the so called Islamic state.

Religious extremism cannot be resolved by targeting or isolating certain groups or individuals, President Obama once rightly stated that "When people are oppressed and human rights are denied, particularly along sectarian lines, or ethnic lines, or when dissent is silenced, it feeds violent extremists." Such bans only fuel the sentiment extremists groups like ISIS use to recruit isolated, jilted and vulnerable youths who have little understanding and knowledge of their faith and true religious practices. To truly target extremism and improve national security we must stand united so that any hateful sentiment that sets about to divide us cannot infiltrate our homes.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has spoken out against the ban stating positive change can only come about through 'shared values and integration.' If anything such bans will only isolate communities and create bigger divides at a time when we should be united. Politicians should be focusing on social stability, better education, and working alongside communities to improve national security and eradicate extremism.

Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community once stated: "These days we find that widespread conflict and hatred has permeated all parts of the world and so there is an urgent need for mutual love, affection and mercy to be spread"

My message to the people of France is much the same, that we should not use religion as a scapegoat and ignore the social issues and divides that are causing friction in our society. That is what feeds extremists elements and gives them more material to spread their message of hate. We must all stand together and firmly state that their message of hate is unacceptable because a true Muslim is defined by their good moral character and not by a burkini.

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