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In July, two women in France were asked to leave a holiday camp because of an attempt to swim while wearing burqinis, because of “hygiene” issues. While such an incident occurred last summer, this time around it comes hot on the heels of the ban on the burqa and niqab.
The PBS program, To The Contrary, is described as a platform for discussing primarily political reasons concerning women. The purpose is to discuss local and international issues from a diverse range of perspectives. However, this idea of diversity did not come through in a messy and confusing conversation about the potential banning of the burqini. While France has not announced intentions of banning the Islamic swimwear, however, To The Contrary takes this as initiative to discuss the confusing relationship between the two.
What was most disappointing about the segment was its lack of diversity. In a discussion about the clothing of Muslim woman, it was a group of women from diverse backgrounds and professions. However, the voice of a Muslim woman was notably absent. This was frustrating because it reinforces this image of Muslim women being seen and not being heard.
In the beginning, the TV host makes the statement that French Muslim women were outraged by religious discrimination. Thus, while many may feel this way, such a statement also creates a homogenous image of Muslim women. This was mostly irritating because the aim of To The Contrary is to represent the variety of voices on discussion topics, and reinforced a very problematic trend.
While the absence of a Muslim voice was troubling, even more troubling was the direction of the conversation, as well as the inability of the panellists to critically analyze the situation. There was not really a very good starting point. While the attitude towards the burqini is related to the conversation about the burqa, France has not announced any plans to ban Islamic swimwear. The conversation danced around any hard-hitting questions, but rather stayed in politically correct waters.
While most comments were attempts at neutral sound bytes, I thought a few quotes were troubling. For example, Sabrina Schaeffer of the Independent Women’s Voice makes a statement that France should be more up front about their desire to ban the burqini, rather than hiding behind the excuse of “sanitation. ”She then vaguely refers to France’s problems with Muslim extremists. I fail to see the correlation between Islamic extremism and swimming pools.
This was followed by a comment by democratic congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton about how she failed to be able to separate the burqa from oppression, but she says that the burqini is a separate and more ridiculous issue. The most refreshing voice was that of Melinda Henneberger, editor of Politics Daily. She asked questions that pushed the conversation into an actual critique of a potential ban, asking where the line is drawn on control of women’s clothing, rather than simply making vague references to freedom.
The scatterbrained conversation eventually descends into an agreement about the merits of American exceptionalism. As Holmes Norton declares that such a thing would not occur in the United States. Even though private entities banning the hijab on their premises is not a new or uncommon issue…I fondly remember being unable to rollerskate at certain rinks as a teenager because of my decision to wear hijab.
A lack of representation as well as a lack of perception made this segment somewhat thought-provoking, but only a reflection of the confusion and lack of understanding of Muslim women. Feminist FAIL.