Like much of what we see on the news these days, the burkini issue was all consuming when it trended, but ephemeral in its media shelf life.
Media outlets would rather repeat what Donald Trump has to say over and over again. Given he repeats himself often, the double repetition serves as a hypnotic trance to which America and the world is slowly falling prey. But that’s another topic for another day. Right now I want to focus on the burkini – because as we’ve seen – the outrage was fleeting and victory was sweet.
When the High Court of France overturned the burkini ban, everyone patted themselves on the back and got back to their daily lives, even though several French mayors said they will continue to fine those wearing the burkini despite the high court’s decision.
David Rachline, the mayor of Frejus, called the court’s ruling a “victory for radical Islam” and said the city’s ban on the garment will remain.
What does this mean? How is a piece of cloth a representation of radical Islam? The answer is simple – It isn’t.
But the concept itself is not so simple. Attached to this simple answer are socio-economic issues; racism, deep rooted misogyny and the male gaze, and most of all – Islamophobia.
But I am not a stranger to complex and concurrent themes. I am a Muslim Australian born in Bangladesh and living in Canberra. My identity is rich in its history and known for its struggle. I am Muslim, and Islam is known for…well a lot. Google it and you’ll see.
I am Australian and this country is nothing, if not the land of the underdog. I am Bangladeshi and take pride in my county’s victorious independence after years of oppression. And I am woman — by virtue of that fact, I am struggle personified; struggling to be accepted, to be recognized, to be valued, to be free.
When I was 10, my school used to take us swimming, and very soon I became the recipient of an award that authoritatively confirmed my floating skills. Then I moved schools and although my love for being in the water grew with each visit to the beautiful beaches of New South Wales – my aquatic skills did not.
This was largely due to the fact that if I wanted to do anything more than dip my feet into the water I had to wear a swimming costume, Lycra tights or pants, a long sleeved shirt, a cap and a scarf.
Every time I went into the water dressed to the nines while bikini clad women swarmed around me – I was less conscious of people watching me than I was of the sand working its way into each and every layer, and the dread building up inside me of have to wash it all out.
It didn’t matter which beach I went to – no one cared what I was wearing. No one stared, commented or showed that they were offended. Everyone was more than happy to enjoy the beach in their own way. And so I stubbornly continued to layer up and venture out till the water reached my knees because I was too scared to go any further.
Then 2.5 years ago – I got married. And my husband, God bless him, started teaching me how to swim. First at the local pool, where he waited patiently before and after each session while I worked myself in and out of all my layers, and then at the beach.
It was at the beach that my friend flaunted her Ahiida burkini and encouraged me to get one. I went online and made my purchase of a loose fitting green and pink suit with cap for $80AUD. A few weeks later my purchase arrived and I made my way to the beach.
I cannot explain to you the joy of entering (and leaving) the water in this amazing creation. The material is light yet loose, the design is stylish yet thoughtful (shout out to the strings keeping the top tied to the pants so your top doesn’t float up and reveal anything) and the sensation of water against skin is not minimized at all. The best part – it dried on my body within 10-15 min of getting out of the water.
No more strategically placed towels on the car seat, no more sandy wet tugging of numerous layers. This thing was a godsend. And everywhere I wore it people stared…and then smiled. Because they could see this piece of cloth I was wearing was making me radical…radically happy. I was ecstatic! My love of the water and outdoors was finally able to be expressed alongside my faith.
Unfortunately not everyone has the same positive experience. My friends have been taunted and abused and, akin to women in France, they felt humiliated and ashamed for no good reason.
There is no good reason to stop a woman from wearing something they feel comfortable in – this is discrimination.
There is no good reason to prevent a woman from enjoying herself in clothes that define her identity – this is racism.
We continue to wear what we want and act as we do in physical protest of the ignorant rantings of men who neither understand the values of freedom and liberty, nor wish to avail it to anyone besides themselves.
There is no good reason to dictate to a woman what she can and cannot wear – this is sexism.
It saddens me that those in positions of authority that have been elected to serve and protect the people are the ones who greedily perpetuate the economics of fear.
They who have been elected to oversee peaceful and harmonious societies are the ones sprouting hate speech and dividing communities with ignorance. They who claim to be democratic and stand for the freedoms and liberties of all, are the ones robbing women of their right to be and act as they wish without the diction of misogyny oppressing their actions.
And so, we women continue to be struggle personified. We continue to wear what we want and act as we do in physical protest of the ignorant rantings of men who neither understand the values of freedom and liberty, nor wish to avail it to anyone besides themselves.
Society can radicalize my burkini and lace my identity with its vitriol, but it won’t’ dissuade me from enjoying what I love — to get in the water and appreciate the beauty and bounty God has provided us with… in my burkini.
Written by Shafeen Mustaq.