There’s No Justifying Canada’s Flawed Counter-Radicalization Plan

In his mandate letter to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau included the creation of an Office of the Community Outreach and Counter-Radicalization Coordinator.

In the 2016 federal budget, the Liberal government pledged to spend $35 million over five years to set up such an office. So far, the Liberal government hasn’t made any official announcement about the office, although Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale hinted to some news outlets that the so-called office would focus on “radicalization to violence of all kinds,” as opposed to the previous Conservative government’s strategy of exclusively targeting Muslim Canadians.

According to some media reports, it seems that the Canadian government’s counter-radicalization model gets its inspiration from what the British government has already implemented in recent years: the Prevent strategy, a program that proved to be a failure at many levels and by all standards.

Two NGOs, the U.S.-based Open Society Justice Initiative and Rights Watch U.K., studied Prevent and its sister program, named Channel, and found in 2016 major flaws with them both. One of the main criticisms is that these programs are based onprofiling and targeting Muslims, particularly in schools, in kindergartens and in health institutions. But most importantly, there is a lack of consensus among academic experts that these counter-radicalization programs are scientifically reliable.

The notion of certain “indicators” identified as risk factors that would draw individuals to terrorism has been discredited by many scholars: “Indeed, the claim that non-violent extremism — including ‘radical’ or religious ideology — is the precursor to terrorism has been widely discredited by the British government itself, as well as numerous reputable scholars.”

The creation of such a program relies on several false premises. It wrongly assumes that Muslim youth are prone to espouse violent ideologies or perpetrate violent crimes more than their peers. Recently, Statistics Canada released the disturbing figuresabout hate crimes in Canada that happened in 2015. In summary, the new figures convey to us two main points:

  • That Muslims communities are among the groups that saw the highest increase of hate crimes perpetrated against them.
  • That the perpetrators of these heinous acts are young men between the age of 18 and 24.

These figures are not surprising to say the least. Many grassroots groups have in the last couple of years shown and documented the rise of Islamophobic acts. Simultaneously, academics brought attention to the rise of violent right-wing extremist and racist groups in Canada.

Neither the provincial or federal governments took these indicators or studies seriously and never acted upon them to present new legislation to fight this phenomenon. The narrative that “Muslim youth are attracted to violence and Jihad” remains very widespread. Meanwhile, groups like Pegida, La Meute, Soldiers of Odin and the Jewish Defense League, to name only a few, are thriving and gaining in popularity and seeing their membership increase. Their protests are also becomingmore public and more provocative. Up until today, an investigative piece reported about a new violent anti-Muslim group — III%, or the “three per cent,” — which claims that they are heavily armed and ready to wage a war on Canadian soil.

After the attack on the Quebec City Mosque, last January 2017 and the assassination of six Muslim men, federal, provincial and local politicians denounced the attacks and said some comforting words to the Muslim communities across the country. Nevertheless, no concrete action was taken to tackle Islamophobia. No extra funding (of very little) was given to schools to fight Islamophobia through education programs. No new measures were adopted by local police to make arrests and ensure that prosecutions of hate crimes are successful.

The only concrete initiative that was undertaken was the introduction of motion,M-103 in the Parliament by Liberal Member of Parliament Iqra Khalid. One of thepurposes of the motion was to “study how the government could develop a government-wide approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination, including Islamophobia, and collect data to provide context for hate crime reports and to conduct needs assessments for impacted communities.” The motion was never intended to be a piece of legislation, but simply a proposal to draw attention about an increasing phenomenon.

The media and political backlash that ensued after this initiative couldn’t be justified by the real impact this motion proposed to have. Indeed, it created a huge controversy among politicians; some of them hid behind the classic pretext that the use of the word “Islamophobia” would mean the end of freedom of expression and free speech, and the destruction of our democracy and liberal values.

In 2014, when two Muslim individuals attacked and killed two Canadians Forces members, one in Saint-Jean in Quebec and the other near the Parliament Hill in Ottawa, then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper introduced Bill C-51, which became the Anti Terrorism Act 2015 — one of the most intrusive pieces of legislation threatening the civil liberties of all Canadians. It was widely denounced by several law professors, former judges and human rights activists. Some of the politicians who last February vehemently opposed M-103 voted in 2015 for Bill C-51 and weren’t that concerned about the real impact the legislation had on the freedom of expression and civil liberties.

Moreover, there has never been a public debate about the root causes of terrorism in Canada. Citing Canada’s successive military missions in the Middle East — Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria — as one of the reasons that push some young Canadians to join violent groups is practically taboo. Linking these attacks to mental-health issues, drug addictions or social and economical marginalization are brushed off as legitimization of violence. Rather, the general public is made to believe that these violent acts are solely explained by the faith and religious beliefs of the perpetrators, which happened to be Islam.

This reductionist approach to define, tackle and explain terrorism continues to justify the creation of a $35-million public office. Rather, the money could have been spent on development of education programs in schools to fight hate, on special training for law enforcement forces to understand racial profiling and on NGOs that offer mental and economic support to marginalized youth.

This article was published on the Huffington Post 

Is there such a “thing” called a Muslim Writer?

This question kept swirling in my head after I attended the Festival of Literary Diversity, FOLD, organized in Brampton, Ontario, between May 4 and May 7.

First of all, the festival was super well organized. Jael Richardson, its director, and her team were welcoming, smiling, funny and making sure that the authors guests were taken care of, picked up from the airport, driven to their hotel and arriving on time to their panels. During the time I was there, I met and listened to many emerging writers, poets, spoken word artists who belonged diverse communities: Indigenous, Metis, Black, LGBTQ, South Asian and many others groups and subgroups. Within these communities, cross-sectional identities were also represented and celebrated. I participated in two panels. The first one was around the theme of immigrant women from racialized communities. I was one of the editors and contributors to an anthology named: “Resilience and Triumph: immigrants women tell their stories”. In my contribution, entitled: “Random Thoughts about Feminism”, I wrote about my upbringing in Tunisia and my distaste that I developed through he years to the “State Sponsored Feminism” that became another political propaganda used to “sell” the country abroad specially within institutions like International Monetary Fund or the World Bank. Gradually, I came to associate feminism with privilege, elitism and one-party politics. Later, this repulsion shaped my political and even religious opinions until I left my hometown for Canada.

 

The second panel was about writing fiction and we were four Canadian authors with different ethnic backgrounds. Many times, as a Muslim woman writing novels, I asked myself whether my Muslim identity can be dissociated from the topics I write about. The fact that I am a practising Muslim woman, does it confine me in one identity that I can’t exist outside it? Are there any specific “Islamic” topics I should be writing about? And if yes, how can I tackle them in an “Islamic way”?

 

I remember some years ago while discussing book titles in a book club (where the members were Muslim), I suggested to read “The Yacoubian Building”. I defended the book for its literary merits but also for bringing very “controversial” topics to be discussed in predominantly Muslim society. One member of the book club demolished all my arguments and told me that these sorts of books encourage depravity and bad morals. I was shocked by her strong reaction as I considered myself as a “good Muslim” with some sense of morality. However, this incident made me realize that I crossed a red line, at least for some.

 

When I wrote my first novel, I really wanted to create stories about Muslim women, but not in any way similar to the ones of “Pulp Fiction” as described by Lila Abu Lughod in her book “Do Muslim Women Need Saving” where Muslim women are usually portrayed as victims of their religion, husbands or fathers and end up finally being rescued by the “West”. I wanted stories that describe the lives of women I see around me. Muslim women who struggle within their faith, within their workplace, within their families but also women who love their faith, cultures and studies. Muslim women who look for love and find it or perhaps do not. While doing so, did I have to explain the rituals of Islam? Did I have to be decent? Not always unless needed by the story or its context. Did I have to convey in my writing any sense of morality specific to Muslim or Islam? Not as far as I am aware of. Do I have to avoid describing “depravity” or bringing it forward? Not necessarily. As a writer, my ultimate objective was to be able to bring stories as I imagine them as close to reality as possible.

 

My second novel was about revolutions, women, and political awakening. The protagonists are Muslim women and their relationship to their faith isn’t taking any prominent place in their lives. This choice isn’t deliberate, it is rather natural. This is what I feel around me and this is how I was able to capture in the stories.

I consider writers as the photographers of the communities they belong to. They take multiple shots of the lives of people they meet, talk to, befriend, hate or simply interact with. These shots are not done with a particular intention of voyeurism and judgement but with the objective of artistic sharing. Sensitivity, subtlety, emotions are my guide. I try to follow this approach in my writing without preaching, without proselytizing without any “Muslim agenda” with one objective in mind: humanizing Muslim women as much as possible.

But the stories I bring to the readers are not the ones that makes the best selling titles, are not the ones that would be picked by Heather Reisman of Chapters. They are not the ones that would be chosen by the mainstream media, as they are nuanced, and most importantly defiant of the cliché about Muslim women.

Today in a world where even “hijabi” Muslim women are objectified, sexualized and made into another class of consumers, the writing of a “Muslim women” has become another category to create additional barriers to limit its widespread accessibility and restrict it to another confined space.

 

 

 

Omar Khadr’s Case A Black Stamp On Canada’s Human Rights Record

Canada is in celebratory mood this year, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of the Confederation. The Canadian government has been funding cultural initiatives here and there to promote the diverse communities living together and to bring the multicultural aspect of Canada.

Internationally, Canada is portraying itself as an open country, accepting refugees from war ravaged countries like Syria. A sort of the antithesis of the American policies recently announced by U.S. President Trump to ban refugees. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau describes himself as a feminist, taking selfies with young Muslim girls in hijab. A sharp contrast with the previous prime minister, Stephen Harper, whodefunded the Ministry of Status of Women and dehumanized Muslim women by fomenting the niqab debate.

However, amidst this festive and open atmosphere, there is a dark cloud that keeps the rays of the sun from reaching everyone. The case of Omar Khadr is a black stamp on Canada’s human rights record.

Omar Khadr was a child when he was imprisoned by the Americans in the military base of Bagram and later airlifted to Guantanamo Camp, where he was forcibly kept for over a decade. He was subject to physical and psychological abuses. He was betrayed by successive Canadian governments: Liberal and Conservative alike wanted him to stay in jail, far away from the public eye and TV cameras. No other western country dealt with its citizens detained in Guantanamo like Canada shamefully did.

Along these years, some prominent Canadian voices rose up to denounce the treatment of Omar Khadr, but they were not enough to deter the Paul Martin government, and later the Harper government, in refusing to call for the repatriation of Omar Khadr. In fact, then-prime minister Harper and his cabinet ministers kept justifying Omar Khadr’s incarceration by the fact that he was convicted in the killing of a U.S. paramedic. Needless to say, this conviction came as the result of a plea bargain Omar Khadr had made with his American jailors to gain his transfer out of the Guantanamo prison.

Even when Omar Khadr was returned to Canada after the insistence of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he was immediately imprisoned and kept there for three more years.

These days, the case of Omar Khadr has slipped under the radar. Even some human rights activists think that the return of Omar Khadr back home would mark the end of his tragic story. But it wouldn’t. Omar Khadr never received any apology for the treatment he was subjected to in Guantanamo.

For instance, in 2008, Canadians officials flew to Guantanamo specifically to interrogate him and were never interested in his well-being. They offered to buy him a burger and some treats to get information out of him. When he understood that they were there for their own professional interests and not for helping him, Omar Khadr, became uncooperative with them. The Canadian officials pushed him to say what he clearly didn’t know. This behaviour is reprehensible and should be denounced. Unfortunately, Canada never distanced itself from the actions of its officials despite the reprimand of the Supreme Court ruling declaring that Omar Khadr’s rights were violated under the Charter of Rights.

Dennis Edney, the Canadian legal counsel for Omar Khadr, has been a hero in defending his client. Not only did he defend Omar Khadr under difficult circumstances, but he also accepted him in his home and protected him as one of his own children. Recognizing the work accomplished by Dennis Edney on behalf of Omar Khadr should be celebrated by all Canadians and not fought or hidden.

Recently, Omar Khadr had to undertake a 19-hour-long surgery on his shoulder as a result of bullet wounds he suffered when he was shot in the back by the U.S. military. This serious surgery will undeniably delay Omar Khadr’s efforts to progress in his studies and life.

Omar Khadr was stripped of his rights as a child, as a teenager and later as an adult. Today, he is trying hard to put his life back on track and get the education that was denied to him all these past years. As long as Omar Khadr file is still lingering, Canada won’t be able to hide its dark face and celebrate its record on the world scene. It is time for the Canadian government to act swiftly and let the sun shine on Omar Khadr’s life.

This article was published on the Huffingtonpost: 

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/monia-mazigh/omar-khadr-canada_b_15948786.html

Islamophobia: an entire system and not few isolated acts

It is sad that it took a tragic event to gather to denounce what has been normalized in the last long 15 years.

It took the killing of six good fathers, hard working men, to start talking about what has described the lives of Muslims communities across Canada.

Today, some people are saying that this happened in Quebec because it is a closed society or because they have trash radios that incite all day to hate and racism. These are simplistic explanations; they are just the tip of the iceberg.

Racism, xenophobia, discrimination has been rampant in the past years in Canada and specifically after 9/11. They have been normalized by some media and some politicians and legislation.

It is a general problem. It is not only specific to Quebec City or the province of Quebec; it has been growing in many cities across Canada:

Remember the two Muslim girls who were threatened last fall in Edmonton by a man who was singing the national anthem and showing them a noose. Today this man has not been charged.

Remember the Muslim woman wearing a scarf who has been attacked in the supermarket in London Ontario by a screaming and violent woman. Last June 2016

Remember PEGIDA, this xenophobic anti-Muslim group that was able to hold a protest in Toronto last June 2016.

Remember the Mosque of Peterborough that has been burned last November 2015.

Remember the Muslim woman here in Ottawa who found an offensive and racist note telling her to go back home also in November 2015

But most of all remember what Canada has done since 2001:

The introduction of Bill C-36 the first antiterrorism legislation that took many of our rights away and most of all demonized Muslims as if they are a threat to the security of Canada.

Remember all the security certificates cases that targeted Arab Muslim men: Mahjoub, Jabalah, Almari, Charkaoui, Harkat. Whose wife, Sophie was speaking at teh begining of the rally and who is until today still threatened by imprisonment and torture if deported? If the treatment of these men is not the culmination of Islamophobia to its ugliest form, how else can we justify their imprisonment without due process, the spying on them, their harassment, the stigmatization of their children and their families forever?

We shouldn’t forget the Anti-Terrorism Act 2015.

It was introduced by Harper with the blessing of Trudeau and the liberals. What was described as a lone wolf attack was followed by the most invasive, the most discriminatory and most likely unconstitutional piece of legislation that targeted Muslims, First Nations, environmentalists groups and many other activists.

But that was not the only islamophobic shameful legacy left by Harper and his government:

Remember The Barbaric cultural practices act, The Niqab ban at the citizenship ceremony, the use of the word mosque as an example where terrorist plots are being plotted and what Harper called “Islamicism” as the biggest threat to Canada.

My friends, this is what we are fighting today. Not some isolated acts. Not few bad apples. But a system. A whole system that dehumanized entire communities, a system that created two classes of citizens and two sorts of laws. One for the criminals and one for terrorists aka Muslims. One for citizens and one for refugees. One for the strong and wealthy one for the poor and the vulnerable.

Our solidarity today is needed more than any time before. Working hand in hand with groups and communities will be our path to victory. Today more than any time before, we need to talk to each other, get to know each other and support each other.

And please remember that all is not dark and depressing. There are people around us who are not filled with hate. There are people around us who do not believe the fake news and won’t accept the dehumanization of the Others. The won’t accept there is us and them. There is only US together. Those people are here today and we will not give up until things will be better and until injustice stops.

This is my speech given at the rally held in Ottawa against the Islamophobia and for the refugees on February 4, 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

On Slavery and Oppression

20170111_105406.jpg
Last week, I went to Dakar in Senegal as part of a delegation of Canadian authors to meet Senegalese authors, establish contact with them and share our mutual experiences. We also met readers and many high schools students during out visit.
From many places and people I saw, one visit marked me and left a painful taste in my soul.
We visited Gorée Island. It is about 4 km from Dakar shores. That morning, we went to the Dakar Harbour, paid our tickets and took a small boat to the island. Gorée Island, has a painful and violent past. It was initially taken over by the Portuguese around 1482 and became a “shipment” counter of slaves to the Americas. It is a tiny island but an island that changed the face of the world we live in forever. This island ended up being taken over by the French in 1800s until the Independence of Senegal in 1960.
The first thing you see in the island while still in the boat is a round shaped prison and then you see nice colourful buildings in the colonial style. There are coffee shops and restaurants and souvenir boutiques everywhere. Amid all this , arrives the worst thing: “la Maison des esclaves” or the “House of slaves”. We entered there with our guide and I was about to cry at every corner of this house.
There are rooms for “men”, rooms for “women” and rooms for “children”. When I say room it is a tiny room, about 2 by 2 meters,  with a small opening as a window. There is even a room for “weighing”. Men were weighed before being shipped to the Americas ( Caribbean Island, South America, US). Black people, kidnapped or taken away by force stayed there about three months and whoever gets sick is thrown away in the ocean as food for sharks. The slaves have shackles that weigh 10 kg, always attached to their ankles. So whoever is tempted by jumping into the sea,  would quickly die by drowning. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine the cries, the screaming, the moaning of these men, women and children in this house and I simply couldn’t. I couldn’t and I will never be able to imagine a single ounce of their suffering. People were treated less than animals and that happened not once or twice but lasted for over 300 hundred years.
Women were selected according to their virginity. The shape and firmness of their breasts. Whereas men were selected according to their weighs: the strongest and the fittest. The one who were small, fragile or tiny were forced fed to gain weigh so they can be shipped as slave to the Americas. There is even a small and dark place under the stairs named: the room of the recalcitrants. A sort of “torture chamber” where the ones who are not obeying the orders are kept until…
The ones who were not selected were left to work as local slaves. The place that marked me the most in this house was ” La porte de non retour” ( The gate of non return) it is a door at the end of the house that opens on the ocean and where all you can see is the water touching the horizon, blending to form a thin far away line.  This is where usually a ship will stand and wait for the slaves to be piled in the low compartment to begin their journey unrooted from their parents, siblings, children, religion, language and land of ancestors.
The slaves had their original names removed and were given just a number, tattooed or burnt on their bodies. Later, once in Americas, they were forced to adopt the name of their owners. This is how multiple and successive generations of European merchants made their fortunes. This is by how sugar plantations were maintained in the America, flourished and brought wealth to their American owners.
This house has two storeys. The one I described above is where the “business” was taken place. On the second one, the merchants used to live, undisturbed by the hell happening under their feet.
One of the Canadian author with us in the delegation, told us that there is a street on Gorée Island named after his last name. So for curiosity, he was looking for this particular street. I asked him the day before, jokingly, in case his ancestor turned to be a colonial figure, would he apologize or do his mea culpa and in all seriousness he declared: “this is not my fault, I would never apologize for anything I am not responsible for it, I can only educate myself about it”. Of course, his reply was fine but I immediately compared this reaction to the one Muslims are always asked to adopt whenever there is a violent incident  committed by a Muslim.  The onus is always on us to distance ourselves from violent acts, regardless of our religiosity, culture, background, ideologies…
Yes slavery has officially stopped. Yes, there has been decolonization, independence and civil rights mouvement…But, the hardest thing to get rid of is this colonized mentality, this feeling of inferiority, this attitude of alienation that stuck forever and can hardly be erased.

In an age of celebrities, intellectual honesty is a scare commodity

Recently, I followed through social media two controversies about two individuals: one from Canada and the from the US.

The first is a famous novelist and short stories writer, Joseph Boyden, who describes his bloodline including Indigenous ancestry. For Joseph Boyden, this association with the Native people and First Native groups, wasn’t only a matter of cultural pride or reclaiming his roots, he, de facto, became one of the most popular representative of the Indigenous affairs, when it comes to media, culture and politics.

This connection, whether genuine or not, became a sort of a “branding” that the author used, rightly or wrongly, to build his media persona. And I think, here is where Native groups had all the right to dispute this “fake representativity” or to be frustrated with his celebrity becoming a silencing tool for them. I am not sure, if we can still use the expression of “native informant” here as Joseph Boyden is somehow sympathetic to the Indigenous issues, but he played the perfect role of the “successful native” who  silenced the rest of the Native voices, their diversity, their multiple issues and specially their visibility.

It is fascinating to see how, a respected investigative journalist Jorge Barrera, looked into the aboriginal ancestry claims of Joseph Boyden and found more questions than answers. What Jorge Barrera did is a perfect exercise that many journalists would do for celebrities and public figures to try to answer questions but mainly to dig further down into the motives of these celebrities.

Recently, a Canadian journalist, broke off the story that Mariam Moncef, a newly elected Liberal MP and Minister of Political Reform, wasn’t born in Afghanistan but rather in Iran. Even though, I personally found the story irrelevant and borderline “anti-refugee fishing expedition”, it got a lot of media attention and Minister Moncef was put under the spotlight to explain her other birth narrative. At the opposite, for Joseph Boyden, many journalists from the establishment are trying to save his credibility and insinuating that those questions about Boyden’s origins are futile and unnecessary. Moreover, Joseph Boyden, did not take the time to refute the allegations against him. His statement was very confusing to not say useless.

For me, this controversy is the sign that Indigenous people are rising up quickly to the challenges and that imposed voices or “appropriated voices” won’t be imposed on them anymore. This is a sign that a community is fighting for its rights to be heard and to decide who can be one theirs or not. Being an Indigenous isn’t a brand that one can sell and make profit out of it.

The Muslim community in Canada has been facing similar challenges in the last years. Where some self appointed “Muslims” would speak on behalf of the whole community and would be automatically considered as media darlings. As a community, we have a lot to learn from Indigenous struggles and their ways of refusing to be infantilized or silenced. When some people with Islamic sounding names or with some ancestry link to Islamic countries, are used by the media as the “enlightened” ones, we should be courageous to question these people and questions the media complicity in making them icons.

The other controversy that I followed is the one dealing with Hamza Yusuf. A prominent US Muslim scholar when asked at the “Revival Islamic Spirit” RIS 2016, a conference held every year in Canada, about the Black Lives Matters, answered the following:

“The United States is, in term of its laws, one of the least racist societies in the world. We have some of the best anti-discriminatory laws on the planet… We have between 15-18,000 homicides a year, 50 per cent are black on black crime… There are twice as many whites that have been shot by police but nobody ever shows those videos. It’s the assumption that the police are racist and it’s not always the case…

“I think it’s very dangerous to just broadstroke any police that shoots a black as immediately being considered a racist, sometimes these are African American police officers. The police aren’t all racist.”

I am glad that I stopped going to this event years ago. After few years attending, I noticed that this is becoming a sort of “religious entertainment” event where some scholars are there mainly for building their celebrity status rather then denouncing injustice, or intellectually challenging the youth and the audience. Political questions are most of the times non discussed or if it is discussed it is done in an apologetic way that would make the Muslim individuals feel and behave not as full citizens but rather as “grateful” immigrants or refugees who should behave themselves.

The last year I attended RIS, I heard Hamza Yusuf, denouncing the moral depravity of America and denouncing people watching “Minions” movie, as for him, the one-eyed devilish creatures are a sort of a worship of the “Anti-Christ”. I found these comments so shallow and so dangerous that immediately after, I took the decision not to attend the event anymore.

It is insulting to our intellectuals to hear how Hamza Yusuf would worry about the spiritual wellbeing of Muslim youth watching “Minions” and meanwhile having doubts and reservations about a social justice groups like Black Lives Matters. This attitude turns Islam into a religion of stupid details, whereas Islam is a religion of big ideas and standing with the right issues.

 

Banning the Burkini in Cannes: Continuing Oppressing Women Under the Name of Liberation

So recently, the mayor of Cannes in France issued a ban on burkinis. Burkinis is a made-up name for special full-body swimming garment: a hybrid between Burqa and Bikini. In reality, a burkini is a swimming suit composed of leggings and a sort of a short dress worn on top of it. Some burkinis have a hoodie attached and with some other you add a hijab that would cover the head.

I didn’t grow up knowing burkinis. I used to go to the beach and wear a bathing suit. Later, when I decided to wear hijab, I used to put a long dress and hijab. In water, this can be so uncomfortable and heavy and when you go to sit on the beach it collects tons of sand and you feel you instantly gained extra pounds of weight.

At some point I decided to stop swimming, as I felt so much annoyed by the sand and the curious looks. An experience that was supposed to be fun and joyful turned to become itchy and embarrassing. I had the impression everyone would like at me.

And then, I started hearing about some nice suits that modestly cover the body but are made of appropriate fabric that wouldn’t keep the water and would dry as soon as you are out of the water. At that time, no body called these suits burkinis. We didn’t have a specific name for them. We just called them bathing suit for hijabis.

I think they first appeared in Turkey and Malaysia ( I also read somewhere that it was originally designed by an Australian designer of Lebanese descent, Aheda Zanetti) and I remember one of my friends borrowed a suit from another friend who bought it from Turkey and took it to a seamstress and asked her to do something similar.

In Tunisia, Burkinis made their appearance in beaches in the early 2000s. Before then, many women swam either in bathing suits; some others in bikini but many women would wear long dresses or didn’t swim at all. The contact of the long dresses with water and by the effect of pressure and water, they inflate like balloons so women have to keep burst these bubbles of air each time they stand up in the water. Needless to say, that with a long dress, you can’t really swim and move fast. You just dip in the water and stay there. Moreover, once outside the water, the wet dress becomes so tight on the body revealing the shape of the woman and thus defeating the purpose of modesty that a full body suit is supposed to achieve.

Burkini came as the ideal creation. It gave women the opportunity to enjoy water, beach, swim with her friends, kids and family without necessarily looking like an alien.

I remember the first time I went to buy a burkini in Tunisia, it was like trying to buy alcohol in Canada when you are underage. It was in 2008, the dictatorship of Ben Ali was still in place and all sign of religious symbols were suspicious to say the least. Burkini, like hijab, was of course considered in Tunisia as a sign of affiliation with Islamic groups and thus selling them would mean for the regime encouraging women to join these mouvements. So I went to the souk and I asked some store about them. The seller would look at me and assess my real intentions and then once I passed the “test”, he would bring from, literally under the table, one or two packages with a burkini inside them so I can see the models.

But after, the Arab Spring, burkinis were freely sold even in large supermarkets and women who whished to buy one, could freely do so.

It is interesting to note that Tunisian beaches today are full of women wearing burkinis. Even some women, who are not wearing hijab, would go for a burkini.

(It must be mentioned here that women in bathing suits are not harassed but it is very common in these societies that men would stare at women so burkinis is a way to keep some of these unwanted stare away or limited. By no means, burkini would become a way to control to opposite sex attitudes, as this is a matter of education that has never been tackled)

Of course, for people who still consider women covering their bodies as a sign of oppression, burkinis joined the list of words and clothing that linked Muslim women to the world of darkness. For many Muslim women who didn’t want other people commenting on their bodies or showing off their skin for public consumption, burkini achieved the total opposite. It combined liberation with modesty: the best of two worlds!

The recent decision of France to ban burkini from the beaches in Nice is another example of anti-Muslim attitudes wrapped under the disguise of women liberation and combatting religious extremism. All what it will do is: to alienate French Muslim women furthermore and of course prevent them from a nice refreshing swim in the Mediterranean Sea.

What bothers me even more is the total silence of Western feminists. Their silence is disappointing for this is a perfect example of male interference with female choices.

When women are banned from driving in Saudi Arabia, all western feminists would mobilize and stand up (rightly so) to denounce the arbitrariness, abusive and patriarchal nature of such decision. When women in Iran are punished for showing more hair in public or going out with make up, the outrageous reaction of Western feminist is so intense ( and yes we should be outraged) but when Muslim women are banned from going to the beach wearing a burkini, all you hear is silence or whispers. The burkini ban perfectly fits the old equation, so why bother?

Islam= Women oppression

How can a country, considered as a beacon of rights and freedom go so low and do this to its won citizens?

In France, it isn’t a secret that women are allowed to go topless on beaches. There are even some beaches especially designated for nudists. But to prevent women to swim because of the length of their swimming suit is a silly and a simply revengeful reaction. Once again, one of the most vulnerable groups of a society have to pay for the incompetence and failures of the politicians.

At least, and for a small temporary confort, we have some powerful words from Arundhati Roy who commented about the banning of burqa in France in 2010:

“When, as happened recently in France, an attempt is made to coerce women out of the burqa rather than creating a situation in which a woman can choose what she wishes to do, it’s not about liberating her, but about unclothing her. It becomes an act of humiliation and cultural imperialism. It’s not about the burqa. It’s about the coercion. Coercing a woman out of a burqa is as bad as coercing her into one. Viewing gender in this way, shorn of social, political and economic context, makes it an issue of identity, a battle of props and costumes. It is what allowed the US government to use western feminist groups as moral cover when it invaded Afghanistan in 2001. Afghan women were (and are) in terrible trouble under the Taliban. But dropping daisy-cutters on them was not going to solve their problems.”