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Freedom to think comes before freedom of dress Open in fullscreen

Saleem Aldajani

Freedom to think comes before freedom of dress

France's burkini bans started protests in Europe [Getty]

Date of publication: 7 September, 2016

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The burkini ban is more than just a debate about gender, blogs Saleem Aldajani.

In light of recent burkini bans, the French prime minister addresses us with soundbites that resonate with the affaire du foulard of 1989 and means of suppression practiced until this very day.

He describes burkinis as "enslavement" while stating that, "condemning the burkini in no way questions individual liberties."

In agreement, the mayor of Nice claims that the religious freedom to wear the burkini 'undermines' French secular values. And oddly enough, social media has risen to the defence, claiming that local police are, "just doing their job."

As the highest ruling court in France overturns the ban, the spotlight of public opinion goes with it.

The battle seems to be over, but attacks on freedom are untouched. With this proclaimed victory, we are led to believe we have progressed.

However, before women can decide what to wear, we – men – need to decide what to think.

Although this may be patriarchal by nature, what is intended by mass media and legislation is to deter from ideological roots. Masking the art of coercion in deterrence is common for practices that maintain the status quo when ideologies collide.

The battle seems to be over, but attacks on freedom are untouched. With this proclaimed victory, we are led to believe we have progressed

Banning of bikini and burkini: Two ends of a spectral challenge

Take the subtle message carried by this political cartoon as an example.

The caption reads: "Men: stop telling women what to wear." The cartoon presents men clashing over a woman's dress, depicting the spectrum of regulations upon female attire at two extremes: conservative suppression of choice and extreme liberation such that religious freedom is provocatively threatening.

While attributing this to patriarchal sources may be easy, disinformation in this shallow description is deeply alarming.

Is the patriarchy responsible for these regulations? Can suppression of religious freedom in a secular and free country be equated to enforcement of religion in a state governed by its scripture?

With misleading questions circling media outlets, ineffective solutions are formed with inadequate answers. Just as one cannot see bones without the help of an x-ray machine, when will we uncover what is needed to diagnose the problem?

If female attire regulation is exclusively portrayed through a gender lens, as damned as we are under male privilege and a predominantly patriarchal world, we are destined for doom if we believe that gender is the central cause – rather than a source among many that stem from ideological roots.

Those who are viewed as perpetrators of suppression – males – cannot become victims, or even saviours, if that unveils where crimes are truly coming from: upholding certain ideologies over others in state-sponsored irreligiosity.

With misleading questions circling media outlets, ineffective solutions are formed with inadequate answers

Damned if we do, damned if we don't

Although light is a spectrum, what is apparent on one end may be invisible from another.

Male privilege says, "Not all men" tell women what to wear. However, even if all men did not interfere, the issue still exists because of ideological roots. While patriarchy may indeed add to the misogynistic fire, the primary cause is a bigoted ideology, and addressing gender alone, will not eliminate the problem.

Take a look at the number of women, and even men, who get kicked off planes for their religious attire. In such cases, we can see that reducing the issue merely to one of gender does not give it justice.

When women are unable to resist rules that shame them, more often than not, the claim is dismissed as male supremacism, so damned if we do and damned if we don't.

When women are unable to resist rules that shame them, more often than not, the claim is dismissed as male supremacism

Maintaining the status quo

While 30 coastal resorts and 20 mayors in France evaded the ruling, Nicholas Sarkozy promised a nationwide ban if elected as president in 2017.

As a result, suppressive policies on female attire, dated back to the 90s, are left out of the debate and an ineffective overruling emerges as a victory.

This way the patriarchy is put on a pedestal while the struggle for freedom is out of the question.

Even though such regulations can be caused by patriarchal sources, no matter how many times we flip the gender coin, nothing changes when both faces carry the same meaning: a clash of ideology where secular and religious freedoms are at odds.

In a day and age where Islamic attire is taken as a threat to secular values, the ideological conflict goes beyond gender. It may be patriarchal for profoundly sound reasons, but we cannot overlook that these misleading messages are a mere illusion of disinformation intended to deter from a central cause: a millennial paradigm for attacks on religious freedom that cannot be disrupted.

For what is justice really worth if we can just take it at face value while maintaining the status quo?

Saleem Aldajani is an undergraduate in Physics and Biological-Chemical Engineering with an interest in political philosophy. Follow him on Twitter: @saleemaldajani

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