As someone who has worked in Muslim countries I can see both sides of the burkini argument, but I will still assert that banning the burkini (which has been the case in parts of France) is an affront to a basic human right to assert the way you want to appear to the world. Whether this is to be scantily clad or to cover your body it is a personal choice. Admittedly, the sight of women donning the full burka where you can only see someone's eyes, or not at all, can be strange, but I respect a woman's right to do so. Personally, I am in no position to dictate what she can or cannot wear; just as I assert my right to dress how I want to without judgment or discrimination.
When I was filming in Sylhet, Bangladesh in 2002, I was told I had to cover my hair. During the night shoot I was mobbed by crowds of people curious to see a female filmmaker. Finding the scarf annoying and distracting, it kept slipping off my head impeding my ability to work but in order to film it was mandatory to wear it. When filming 'Connecting Faith' - a film about three young Muslims in London, Kuala Lumpur and Dhaka in 2003 - I was filming on the campus of an Islamic university in Malaysia. Once again I was told I had to cover my hair. Choosing to tie my hair back and wear a baseball cap I was castigated for not wearing the headscarf. In my eyes I'd reached a compromise, but instead I was unfairly judged. Similarly on another shoot for a film I was making for the British Council in Bangladesh, the lady accompanying me was British born and white. She chose to wear traditional dress and reprimanded me for wearing jeans. I was there to work and needed to feel comfortable, I was covered up in my eyes and found it ironic that a white non-Muslim female was dictating what I should wear. In London on Brick Lane where I have exhibited, shot many films and taken numerous photos I have at times felt alienated and judged by my fellow Bangladeshis because of my choice of dress. It is a woman's prerogative to cover up, just don't tell me to do the same.
Drawing of Shopna, a Bangladeshi teenager I worked with who was not particularly religious, but felt comfortable covering her hair with a scarf. May I add it was not the hijab she chose to wear. (Featured in Connecting Kids, 2006, Arts Council and British Council)
The few occasions I have gone to the beach with my mother she would go into the sea wearing her sari! It was natural for her to swim like this and no one battered an eyelid. I don't like being in the blazing sun, preferring the shade and often wear long sleeved clothes to protect my skin, but now the lines are being blurred.
France has been subjected to brutal and indiscriminate acts of terrorism and naturally is on high alert, but to vilify women for their choice of dress is counterproductive. It will only instigate resentment, feelings of exclusion and help cement divisions in an already divided France.
Being different is something that has dogged me throughout my life because of the way I look, my views, my art, my writing and yet I continue to assert that right to be different and would argue that difference is what makes the world interesting. If we were all the same how tedious would that be? We are facing a time of uncertainty and fear and how do we deal with this new landscape. Do we accept and embrace difference or do we retreat, put up walls and exclude?
The woman in Cannes sleeping peacefully on the beach surrounded by bikini clad and scantily dressed sunbathers posed no threat to anyone, she was enjoying a lovely, sunny day and taking a nap. To see her being forced to undress by intimidating officers and fined for wearing a long sleeved tunic is a step too far. How does that woman feel now, about being French, about being part of French society, about how she should dress? Her humiliation, as others looked on, was palpable. Just as I felt affronted when I was told to cover up, she felt affronted for being told to undress. It is no different and it is wrong.
By enforcing this ban do they think these women will just disappear, is that the aim? What is the objective of such a policy? The Mayor of Cannes argues that the sight of the women in a burkini makes people fearful during this sensitive time - fearful of what exactly? Suicide bombers and terrorists blend into the crowd so as not to attract attention. This argument is not tenable.
It's just attire, and another way of dressing. If other countries adopt the same stance it is a slippery slope. France is a secular country and espouses fraternity, equality and liberty, but these new laws are a smack in the face of such values.
I am no fan of the burka, but I am not a fan of seeing half naked pictures of Kim Kardashian either - the point is who am I to impose a dress code on anyone? Let everyone be free. Granted if someone's entire face is covered during these security conscious times it is necessary to identify people, but if you can see the person's face and the rest of their body is covered, what's the problem? In winter time we all cover up due to the cold, no one is forced to take their clothes off. Some Muslim women choose to dress modestly. To force them not to would make them feel uncomfortable, just let these women be.