#Burkiniban: What French Can Learn from Scotland – Yvonne Ridley

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Muslim models display burkini swimsuits at a shop in western Sydney on August 19, 2016 (AFP Photo/Saeed Khan)
Muslim models display burkini swimsuits at a shop in western Sydney on August 19, 2016 (AFP Photo/Saeed Khan)

Eminent British journalist and columnist Yvonne Ridley says Scotland Police’s decision to make the hijab an optional part of its uniform is in stark contrast with current events in France

YVONNE RIDLEY

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]O, Police Scotland has said women from muslim communities may now wear the hijab as part of their uniform – my first reaction to this was to wonder why it has taken so long.

We might only account for 1.5 per cent of the population in this great nation, but there has been an Islamic connection with Scotland for around 500 years with the first muslim medical student from India registering at Edinburgh University in 1858.

However, as I trawled through the social networks yesterdat morning I was aghast to see a Guardian newspaper story about some French male cops on a beach in Nice appearing to be ordering a muslim woman to remove some of her clothing as her bewildered children looked on.

A gaggle of French mayors – yes, they’re all blokes – have approved a ban on the burkini, which covers the body and head, citing security concerns about religious clothing.

This is unacceptable. A red line crossed. It makes a mockery of the proud boast of ‘freedom and liberty’ in a country which was once regarded as being quite laid back in comparison to its reserved European cousins across the English Channel.

A gaggle of French mayors – yes, they’re all blokes – have approved a ban on the burkini, which covers the body and head, citing security concerns about religious clothing. The images of male cops confronting the woman in Nice on Tuesday happened on the beach at the town’s Promenade des Anglais, near the scene of last month’s Bastille Day lorry attack.

The uniformed men stand over her as she appears to remove a blue long-sleeved tunic, although one of the officers appears to take notes or issue an on-the-spot fine. The images have emerged just as another mother of two also told on Tuesday how she had been fined on the beach in nearby Cannes wearing leggings, a tunic and a headscarf.

The police enforcement order, seen by French news agency AFP, read that she was not wearing “an outfit respecting good morals and secularism”.

Speaking first and foremost as a feminist, I am outraged that French cops are targeting muslim women – any women – in this way. How dare any man tell a woman what she can and cannot wear? If this was happening in North Korea or Saudi we’d probably all heave a sigh and shake our heads in despair, but the fact this ‘policing’ was carried out on a French beach is truly shocking.

Speaking first and foremost as a feminist, I am outraged that French cops are targeting muslim women – any women – in this way. How dare any man tell a woman what she can and cannot wear?

And let’s be brutally frank: the real reason behind this sort of targeting of muslim women by banning the burqa, burkini, niqab etc. is a combination of racism and Islamophobia. In truth, the number of women who chose to wear a full face veil numbers hundreds rather than thousands among the five million-strong muslim community living in France. The figures are negligible.

This daft burkini ban also had most folk perplexed since many had never heard of the garment until kitchen goddess and diva Nigella Lawson stepped out in one on an Australian beach back in 2011.

Commentators said she was covering up her curvy body from prying media while others said she was protecting her English Rose looks from the carcinogenic effects of the sun. Who cares her reason? Similarly, the privacy-obsessed Madonna rocked up on a beach in Ibiza covered from head to toe in a burkini-style outfit in 2014.

So I suppose, in light of events in France, Police Scotland should be given credit for its initiative, which comes 10 years after the London Metropolitan Police approved the hijab as part of the uniform.

Chief Constable Phil Gormley said the Scotland force should be representative of the communities it serves, adding: “I hope that this addition to our uniform options will contribute to making our staff mix more diverse and adds to the life skills, experiences and personal qualities that our officers and staff bring to policing the communities of Scotland.”

In light of events in France, Police Scotland should be given credit for its initiative, which comes 10 years after the London Metropolitan Police approved the hijab as part of the uniform.

The move is designed to encourage more women from muslim and ethnic minority backgrounds to join the service which has half a dozen female muslim officers in the ranks of 17,242.

The diverse muslim communities in Scotland have never been afraid of embracing and combining Scottish culture with their own and, in 2012, an official Scottish Islamic tartan was unveiled to the world.

Earlier this year, Transport Minister Humza Yousaf, MSP for Glasgow Pollok, first took his oath of allegiance in English and then in Urdu in the Scottish Parliament while other members gave theirs in Doric, Gaelic and Scots as well as English.

Yousaf proudly paid homage to his roots with his outfit as well as his language, by wearing a traditional Scottish kilt with a sherwani jacket.

Quite what the French would think, who knows? Scotland might not be perfect but it is home to a diverse community, and when the police show a desire to reflect that rather than suppress it, then it must be regarded as a positive move not just for Muslim women but for everyone.

www.commonspace.com.scot

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