Laïcité in France, the Burkini debate

I found it interesting to examine how secularism has taken two paths in international politics, that of lacisim and what they call Judeo-Christian secularism. Lacisim is what France follows, which is a separation of religion and politics, with religion being expelled completely. While laicism is not only in France, it is the most prominent example. The separation of church and state is extreme, with French laïcité removing religion completely from the public sphere as much as possible. It is a more vigorous approach to secularism that its European neighbors and the United States.

By trying to claim they have overcome the separation of religion and society by removing religion from the public sphere, they have created many problems. This places European ideals of religion over other non-Western religions, as they cannot as easily blend into the private sphere. It creates a small box of what religion in the nation state ought to be,  leaving non-Western religions on the outside. In France, by trying to get rid of religion by banning any public expression it actually limits followers of Islam for example, in the banning of the veil. By putting religion solely in the private sphere, the ban intervenes in the lives of Muslims as they are unable to show their belief outwardly, an important part of their religion, as it is in other religions. By following their norms and behavior they practice their religion, it cannot just be in the private sphere.

The debate over laïcité in France continues, and it was recently the debate renewed when last summer a number of French cities banned the burkini, a modest full body swimsuit. It all started when a photograph surfaced of a woman that was being ordered to remove articles of clothing at a beach in southern France, and fined for “not wearing an outfit respecting good morals and secularism”. The outfit the woman was wearing resembled a burkini, although she was wearing long sleeves, pants and a headscarf. This is mind blowing to me, I cannot even imagine how that woman felt. She was not alone, as other woman faced similar situations when they were simply trying to enjoy the beach. For secularism to go as so far so that seems extreme to me as an American.

The ban was argued as protecting secularism and representing Islam’s inability to assimilate to French values. However, a good point the article made was that the suit actually made it possible for Muslims to participate in Western culture. By wearing the burkini they can go to the beach and go to swim classes while keeping with their religion. This has been a hot topic for young Muslim girls. The justification for the ban was that it was a straightforward symbol of religiosity, but would the reaction be the same for modestly dressed Jews or Christians?

Although all religious attire is banned in public schools, the burkini ban and the ban on full face coverings goes to more extremes in targeting Muslims. Despite efforts to fit into Western culture, the Muslim population of France is discriminated against often on the basis of laïcité. This discrimination has lead to alienation and ostracization. By trying to separate religion from national identity, it has made it as though Muslims cannot be apart of the community if they wish to practice their religion.




3 thoughts on “Laïcité in France, the Burkini debate

  1. It’s also interesting to note (and rather ironic) that in their attempts at expelling religion from the public and political sphere, France has, in effect, made religion a significant point of contention in their politics. In addition to this, French laicité is contradictory. It asserts that there should be a separation between church and state and that religion should not play a role in the determination of state policy. However, the French government provides Catholic schools with a per-student subsidy and pays the salary of the schools’ teachers. Cathedrals were deemed historical monuments and protected by French policy. Thus, secularism in France seems only relevant when it comes to Islam.



    1. I completely agree, the exact opposite of what the aim appeared to be. France has made religion an extremely contentious issue, in particular in regards to Islam. Your point about the funding for Catholic schools is a perfect example! The laicite is further dividing France, as it has pitted France against Islam. The results of which are playing out during the French election, as France struggles to had a poor economy and migration. Which has led to a lot of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment in the country, one of the many reasons Marie Le Pen has moved on to the second round of the election.


  2. Hey Jane!

    I think this in extremely important topic to discuss in today’s world. It seems to me that there is no simple solution, largely because of the increasing support for anti-Muslim far-right movements in Europe. One of the platforms of these parties is to protect the culture of their respective countries. I want to say that these Muslim should woman should be able to dress as they want at the beach, but this growing view that Islam is encroaching on European values could potentially create a major conflict down the road. I wonder what you think could be some solutions to the harsh divide in these European societies, that would also maintain a stable environment into the future. It seems like that pesky human nature keeps getting in the way of progress.

    – Vlad


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