A reflective, silver jewelry box sits at the mirror’s base on my dresser. My near obsession with accessories that glitter has led to a dresser top cramped with shiny charms and tangled chains, but this box has a specific place, and is reserved for what I truly value. For the gold bracelet with my name carved into it, for the ring my parents gave me for my First Communion, for the cross blessed by the bishop at my Confirmation. I wear that cross often, brandishing my religion as what has shaped my life.
Recently, I was forced to think about how I would react if someone were to insult that claim to my culture. What would I do if someone were to tell me the necklace I so valued was a symbol of hate and violence, that it was such a threat to other people I had to discard it? The thought rattled me. Heritage, religion, and culture are a part of me, and of each of my peers. Forcing an individual to hide part of themselves is wrong, any way you look at it.
It is reprehensible for a nation to enforce such culture-shaming.
For Muslim women, the choice to don a hijab is just that. A choice. Women in many nations choose to wear the garb not because it’s a display of oppression, but because it shows a woman’s devotion to her culture.
The country of France, however, has set laws banning the hijab since 2011, making it the first, and only, country to do so. About 2,000 women nationwide are affected by this, and yet France is, apparently, not done. Just two weeks ago, over 30 towns and cities put an additional ban on burkinis, the growing trend amongst Muslim women. Created by Aheda Zanetti, a woman in Australia, the burkini is a bathing suit which gives coverage from ankle to wrist, while also wrapping around the head in the same fashion as a hijab.
Many attempt to support this decision by referencing the recent terrorist devastations the country has been experiencing. With so many lives lost to these attacks, to merely say tensions are running high is ludicrous. People are afraid, people feel threatened, and people search for protection to feel safer.
Wearing a hijab, or a related garment, however, is support for a religion, not a terrorist group. When we become unable to see the line between the two, a new danger starts to form. Danger that comes from our eagerness to act as if the violence comes from a single source. It’s a nice thought, of course, that eradicating the practice of Islam could somehow make all of these terrorist groups disappear. A nice thought, but also a foolish one.
The burkini is a wetsuit with a hood. It does not put you in danger. The ban does not protect anyone from any threat. It only pushes Muslim women further into oppression. If a law proclaims the taking of a person’s rights appropriate, the standard for the rest of the public mirrors that behaviour.
Effects of this particular ban were near immediate. On August 23, police were called to a beach where they asked a woman wearing a burkini to remove it. Bystanders described the crowds on the beach as bitter, and harassing. Many shouted at her, claimed Muslims were not welcome in their country, and even applauded when she agreed to leave the premise. The fact that people can be so heavily influenced so quickly is disturbing. The fact that a woman can be harassed with police interference replaced by encouragement is despicable. The fact that this kind of abuse can be not only justified, but praised, is terrifying.
People seem to be growing increasingly easier to manipulate into widespread hatred, which should set off a red flag for anyone. If we make it so simple for a minority of hateful criminals to ruin the reputation of an entire community of people, to the extent that labeling and discrimination becomes accepted, we are making the rest of the world that much more vulnerable to the same fate.
I refuse to wake up one day with the world tossing me into the same category as the KKK because of the silver cross around my neck.