The way we dress is not a crime

At the beginning of this week I read that 15 French towns have now banned women from wearing Burkini’s saying public worries justified their actions.  I wanted to blog just a short post to say something to express outrage and solidarity.  This simply isn’t right.

I guess I’ve always been in climates where people’s clothing and dress have offended.  The Punk movement in the late 70’s onwards deliberately sought to offend and often succeeded.  Metal, Grunge, Skaters – each in their own way creating a look and feel that stands out as different and often offends.  In the early 2000’s I had the pleasure to get to know the large group of kids who spent time in Reading’s Forbury Gardens and often saw first hand how people were offended by clothing – even in churches.  It was sad then and it’s sad now.

Then there’s religious clothing.  I often have the honour to spend time with people who wear clothing because of their faith.  Monks and Nuns from monasteries.  Ordained ministers whether Anglican, Orthodox or Roman Catholic each have their distinctive clothes.   The Jewish skull cap.  The beautiful colours of Buddhist or Trappist monks.  All of this clothing is distinctive.  All of this clothing means something.  None of this clothing is banned or considered provocative – despite the fact not everyone likes it.

Events in France over recent months have been traumatic and horrifying and I can only begin to express my sorrow to France as a nation for all that’s happened.  However, nothing in my opinion can provide reason for forcing a woman sitting alone on a beach to remove clothing whilst armed police stand over her, backed by law.

The current trend of banning Burkini’s is as abhorrent as the violence and crimes people are seeking to stop.  These are innocent women simply enjoying a day on the beach with their families.  Burkini’s are not offensive or a sign of radicalism – infact they are a move towards interdependence and involvement.  Families of faith, on a beach, joining in with other families enjoying the summer.

France is seeking a secularist approach to matters of security and diversity.  This is a constitutional balance which France embraces and which I respect.  I would simply suggest that to impose secularism whilst witnessing ever greater social division would suggest something isn’t working.  Furthermore it seems dangerous in the extreme to pander to anything resembling the extremes of right wing thinking in a European climate where people are shrinking behind their borders and worrying about immigration.  To hear even presidential candidates backing the ban seems to take political point scoring to another dimension.

I wish there was something I could do other than write to show solidarity for these woman who are being victimised.  But I wanted to say something.

Space to Breathe’s focus right now is on interdependence and that isn’t simply in the public square.  Somehow there is a need to confront again the darkness of religious intolerance and to say (yes even in the midst of violence) that the sign of a healthy society is our ability to understand and include not to exclude.

We need each other.

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