France – secularism becomes racism

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burkini racism

On 28 July David Lisnard, the mayor of Cannes, issued a temporary ban on the wearing of ‘ostentatious’ religious clothing at the beach. The order read that access to the beach would, up until 31 August, be prohibited to anyone dressed ‘incorrectly’, not ‘respectful of good manners and secularism’ and not ‘respectful of the health and safety rules of the public beach.’ Another 30 or so coastal towns swiftly introduced similar orders, now generally referred to as ‘burkini bans’. One such town was Nice, where on 14 July 86 people had been killed and 434 injured in a terrorist attack. This attack, along with those in Paris in January and July, has been seized upon by the French state to justify increasing violence and racism against French Muslims.

On 26 August, ruling against a decision of the resort town of Villeneuve-Loubet, the Council of State, France’s highest administrative court, effectively set a precedent that the ‘burkini ban’ is unconstitutional. Nevertheless, many mayors who have issued such bans are refusing to lift them. In Corsica, the local Bastia court has upheld the ban at Sisco, despite the Council of State ruling. Sisco was the third town to issue a ban, following anti-Muslim violence over the weekend of 13 August.

After Muslim families were harassed and attacked on Saturday 13 August, Corsicans threw stones and bottles and set fire to three cars,. Four people had to visit hospital. 100 Police officers attended the scene and a police cordon was used to protect the Muslim families. On Sunday, a large crowd gathered at Bastia (12 miles away) and tried to enter the Lupino district, home to a large North African community. Police blocked their entry. Even though violence was directed against Muslims, and it has not been confirmed whether anyone present was in fact wearing a burkini, the local Socialist Party mayor, Ange-Pierre Vivoni blamed the Muslim community and banned the burkini.

This is not the first time that ‘secularism’ combined with ‘security’ has been used by the French imperialist state to dictate to Muslim women what they can and cannot wear in public: in 2004, the French state banned any full-face coverings. The clear target then was the burka.

France, like Britain, is a parasitic state which derives its wealth from the exploitation of labour and resources in oppressed nations. The state of emergency law currently being used in France to target Muslims was brought in during the Algerian War of Independence, when the Algerian people fought back against French imperialism and genocidal settler-colonialism. Then, just as now, its justification was that it would keep the country safe, but what it really meant was the legitimisation of state racism: police violence and military torture.

The present state of emergency gives the government the power to shut down demonstrations, impose curfews and conduct ‘administrative searches’ - violent raids carried out without a court-issued warrant. Of the 4,000 raids since November only 7% have led to court proceedings. They overwhelmingly target Muslims.

The ratcheting up of French imperialism is a response to capitalist crisis. Growth in the first quarter of 2016 was a mere 0.5% and France’s current account balance (an important indicator of an economy’s health) was -€20 billion. As French capitalism stagnates, two courses of action are pursued to restore profitability: the destruction of public services and labour rights at home (see FRFI 251) and increasing plunder abroad.

As British, French and US bombs flatten cities and destroy lives across the Middle East, many people are fleeing to Europe. There they face a racist state. Those who make it to Calais are attacked by the police and will be kept from travelling any further by a £1.9m wall, being financed by the racist British state. The two states collaborate to strengthen imperialism.

Knowing that Muslims and black people in France will resist, the state is turning to repression such as the ‘burkini ban’, ‘administrative searches’ and increasingly violent policing.

Although the burkini ban has been declared unconstitutional, several towns still have bans in force. The Interior Minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, has urged Muslims to ‘continue to engage with us over gender equality, the inviolate nature of the principles of the French Republic, and tolerance in order to live together in peace’. Cazeneuve, like all imperialists, knows nothing of ‘living together in peace’. With French bombs falling on civilians in Syria and French soldiers deployed across central Africa, and increasing violence carried out against migrants, Muslims and black people in France, what he really urges is for the oppressed to stay silent. History, however, shows that they will not.

Our duty in the imperialist countries is to step up the struggle against state racism and imperialism. Fight Islamophobia! Fight Imperialism!

Séamus Padraíc

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