Like many others, I thought that France's high court ruling on 26 August regarding the 'burkini ban' would signal the end of the country's utter madness on the issue. In describing a local ban on religious attire at the beach as 'illegal' and as 'violating fundamental personal freedoms', it seemed that the high court had taken a much-needed step to recognising the widespread and longstanding islamophobia across France, acknowledging that Muslim women are indeed people, and deserve the same freedoms as everyone else.
Yet on Tuesday, a Corsican judge upheld a local mayor's ban on the religious attire, stating that the ban was legal because public order had been disrupted in the area. The court dismissed the challenge from the Human Rights League on the ban in Sisco, Corsica, saying that the presence of such swimwear on Sisco's beaches could 'cause risks to public order'. The mayor of Sisco claimed the ban protects public security, and for Nicolas Sarkozy, the burkini represents a 'provocation'. Clearly, this rhetoric is victim blaming at its finest.
Aside from the obviously problematic issue of the state policing women's bodies, these statements raise a few questions. Why would a woman who chooses to cover her arms or her hair be responsible for any public disorder? Why does the (unacceptable) regulation of women's bodies have anything to do with the protection of public security? How can we resort to claiming that a woman's swimwear is provocative?
Such logic is reminiscent of those who claim that women who wear short skirts or heels are responsible for any subsequent sexual assault or harassment. It amounts to the same thing: the perpetrator of a potential attack cannot be seen as responsible for their actions, and instead the victim must be blamed.
In this case, the victims of the bans are Muslim women: the vague wording of the regulations, along with a widespread and misplaced association of all Muslims with terrorism, means that they become a way of targeting Muslim women. The bans punish the victims, instead of the perpetrators, of potential Islamophobic attacks by discriminating against their clothing; it is worrying that this has been condoned by the highest legal authority in Corsica.
The continued noise in France surrounding the burkini means that the regulation of Muslim women's bodies remains in the spotlight; the choices that these women can make are still being debated and decided upon FOR them (all in the name of liberating and empowering them, of course). The statement by France's highest administrative court on 26 August on human rights and freedoms is critical, and needs to be absorbed into popular discourse.
The battle for fundamental rights for French Muslims, and especially Muslim women, is far from over, and blaming the victims of systematic discrimination instead of the perpetrators of Islamophobic views only serves to further alienate certain French citizens. Such targeting and marginalisation can only lead to increased religious intolerance; as the presidential elections of 2017 loom and debates surrounding Islam in France become ever-more intensified, France needs to find a way of moving towards a more inclusive model of national identity.