Quora Question: What's Next After French Ruling on Burkini Bans?

Mecca Laalaa wears a burkini
A woman wears a burkini in Sydney, January 13, 2007. A court on the French island of Corsica has ruled to uphold a ban on the burkini. Tim Wimborne/Reuters

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Answer from Stan Belot, French citizen:

Mayors know they cannot try to regulate the burkini on grounds of public safety, so I guess most of the existing local bans will be repelled as a matter of course. On occasion, an activist organization will have to push / threaten legal action, but in general, the regulatory (and police action) part of the issue will just fade away. Maybe a handful of people who were fined will sue the city and get redress. I guess the media will talk about those cases, but I doubt we will hear much about them.

The burkini is just one form of "visible Islam"—more unusual than a rather-dark skin, a North-African name or fasting during Ramadan. The controversy showed, again, that many behaviors associated with (a certain practice of) Islam are at odds with French habits.

What is not familiar is often rejected, and so I reckon that, "by contagion," we will see an increased sensitivity to some other infrequent behavior—and stronger reactions even to quite-usual Islamic behaviors. For example, over the past few days, we've had some news story about anti-Islam acts (a restaurant refusing to serve veiled customers) or what was seen as "provocations" by Muslims. I can easily imagine that the overall image of Islam and Muslims is going down a little for a lot of people.

That the burkini itself becomes less talked about does not mean the end of the whole story. As mentioned above, the press will report on cases, partially because the shock value makes for good stories during the summer month with few big news. We are at the sad point where just about any story about anti-social behavior is automatically associated with Islam. For example, I have read a story about someone being mugged with a knife—and the journalist had to make it explicit that the attacker was not Muslim / immigrant. This is unlikely to last more than a few weeks, but the implicit link in the minds of people may linger.

The burkini debate prompted yet another parading by politicians about "what does it mean to be French?" As the large political parties are gearing up for their primaries in preparation for the 2017 presidential election, we see a lot of over-simplified rhetoric about the place of Islam in France.

In the natural tension between personal liberties and the need for some commonly accepted behaviors (so that "we can all live together"), the ugly heads of racism and ignorance and fear of the un-familiar and refusal to see France change will pollute the discussion. If we cannot address the (hard) question of how to live as a Muslim in France without losing what makes France France, I fear endless, shallow and nasty exchanges between politicians for the next nine months, and ultimately the rise of populist / far right voting in the upcoming election. The result won't be pretty (see French presidential election, 2002).

Let me try to end on a more optimistic note, and to take the long view. Nothing much actually happened, in the grand scheme of things. We were not used to seeing burkinis, we were surprised by it, then in a few years it becomes just yet another type of swimwear and no one is surprised anymore.

Muslim women take the habit of going more often to the beach, some in burqinis, some in monokinis, some in bikinis, etc.

And we just end up all going to the beach without caring much about what the others wear. Except that we are French, so we will continue to judge others for their style. But that's another matter altogether.

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