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Burkini Blues and what does it mean?

September 9, 2016 at 12:42 pm
By Emmy Newman’17

The image of a woman being forced to remove her “burkini” – a body-covering swimsuit sometimes worn by Muslim women -- has blazed through the news in the past few weeks. On Monday, Sept. 12 at 4 p.m. in Richardson Auditorium, a panel of Beloit professors will discuss the history and perspectives surrounding the infamous Burkini Ban in France. The panelists are  Michelle Bumatay, assistant professor of French, Beth Dougherty, professor of international relations and political science, Debra Majeed, professor of philosophy and religious studies, and M. Shadee Malaklou, assistant professor of critical identity studies.

The event will start with the panelists defining the difference between the burqa, hijab and niqab, in order to better understand the current controversy. It will delve into the history of policing religious clothing in Turkey, Iran, France, and the United States, in order to look beyond the monolithic view of the “Burkini Ban” as a singularly French problem.

The event will then move into a question and answer format in the hopes of creating a productive dialogue around the issue.

“This is a nationalism question, a civil rights question, (and) a question of the politics of women’s bodies and clothing,” says Dougherty, highlighting the multitude of issues composite within the Burkini Ban.

As Dougherty says, “France understands secularism as freedom from religion,” as opposed to the United States definition of secularism as freedom of religion. Religious dress has been a long-standing point of contention, with France being the first European country to ban the full-face veil in public in addition to banning headscarves in public schools, similarly to Turkey’s ban in public universities.

The Burkini Ban also brings up issues of French nationalism, according to Dougherty, as we look at the colonial history of France in countries such as Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia.

While the Burkini Ban was officially struck down by the top French court in August, some districts continue to uphold it by justifying the restrictions as preventative measures against violence the burkini had allegedly been shown to cause. The panel discussion will go in-depth into the history of the ban as well as including perspectives on the future.