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As is usually the case in France, any time anything happens where Muslims could even remotely be involved, it becomes a media circus – any time is a good time to talk about how “Muslims want it their way” or how “Muslims don’t want to integrate.”
Last week, a 21 year old woman in a public park in the city of Reims was apparently assaulted by Muslim women for wearing a bikini in public. Several news outlets picked up on the story, including my personal favorite, the Daily Mail (whether that is news is up for debate), with the tantalizing headline “’Muslim Girl Gang’ attacks ‘immoral’ sunbather for wearing a bikini in a public park” – although later on in the same article they quote the local police superintendent saying that the attack does not appear to be religiously motivated. In their defense, at least they put “Muslim Girl Gang” and “immoral” in quotes. The Union de Reims newspaper called it an “aggression with a hint of religious police.” The paper then sort of retracted, with an article on the 28th entitled “Bikinigate: decoding a media circus.” The extent of the reaction is described in this passage from the Daily Mail:
“Protesters wearing bikinis and swimsuits held a rally at the park, in the northern city of Reims, yesterday despite rain and cold winds.Hundreds across France joined the campaign on Twitter, posting photos of themselves wearing swimsuits in public places.
Spectators have likened the campaign to the JeSuisCharlie Twitter campaign, following the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris in January.”
One of the girls accused of the assault took to social media to plead her case, and her argument was that it had nothing to do with religion, but rather an insult to her friend. She stated that while her friend did in fact say something to the effect of “It isn’t summer, it isn’t time to tan, don’t get out your bathing suit” the victim of bikini gate, Angelique Sloss, responded “given what your body looks like, I understand why you don’t want to wear a bathing suit.” Some reports have questioned the victim’s version of events – according to the French Huffington Post, her injuries amounted to three days off of work and not ten as she claimed. Either way, the exchange quoted above still points to more of a fight resulting from an exchange of insults than something akin to a French muttawa (religious police).
Yet the media blew up. As someone who is interested in social media and who lived in France for many years, I find it interesting that people were so quick to conclude that obviously people who have a problem with bikinis in public parks must have been fundie Muslims. SOS-Racisme, one of the leading anti-racist organisations in France, first bought into the idea that it was Muslim-oriented, before finally admitting that they got caught up in the precipitation of the event as relayed by the Union newspaper in Reims. In fact, one of the members of the editorial coordination team at SOS-Racisme is no longer on the list of people who work for the organization due to the conculsions made simply from the ethnic origin of the “aggressors.”
It is getting old, y’all. I feel like Muslims can’t win no matter what we do. Even when Islam isn’t involved, we are somehow still at fault. While the mea culpa of the media was widely disseminated after the police confirmed that there was no religious motivation to the incident, the lingering odor, or the “relents de la police religieuse” as it was described in the Union de Reims, still remains.