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      “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité” For Whom?
      Racism, Sexism and Islamophobia Unveiled!

      By Azza Rojbi

      France prides itself for its motto, which dates back to the French revolution, “Liberté, égalité, fraternité" meaning "Liberty, equality, fraternity" but is it reality?

      Is it a reality for the 8.7 million French people living below the poverty line? Is it a reality for the 140,000 children in France, the majority of whom are of North African descent, who drop out of school each year? Is it a reality for the 4.7 million Muslims living in France that have to live in an atmosphere of discrimination and islamophobia?

      In 2005, French youth of African descent took to the streets in a series of protests following the deaths of two young Muslim men, killed while fleeing police. The loss of two young innocent lives added more fuel to an already burning fire. The government tried desperately to keep a lid on the frustration and anger of a growing number of youth. The government poured some money here and there pretending to fix the problems but avoiding the root causes.

      Today, 11 years after, things have gotten worse for families living in the French suburbs (banlieues), the majority of people living in the “banlieues” are second or third generation immigrants from former French colonies in Africa. Their country’s wealth and resources were plundered and exploited by French colonialism. They have been forced to leave their beloved homelands running away from poverty and lack of opportunities only to find themselves facing racism, islamophobia, poverty, unemployment and massive discrimination in France. The unemployment rate among youth from impoverished suburbs across France is two and half times greater than the national average according to the Observatoire des inégalités (Inequality Watch - A network of research organizations in France and Europe).

      After the 2015 terrorist attacks that shook France, islamophobia and racism skyrocketed and families from Muslim and North African backgrounds found themselves further alienated and discriminated against. In just the 3 weeks following the attack on Charlie Hebdo Magazine, more than 128 anti-Muslim incidents and aggressions happened across France, according to a report by the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF). There were killings, verbal and physical attacks on women wearing the veil, even grenades and shots fired at various Mosques around the country. This wave of islamophobic attacks took place, while being practically ignored by the French government and mainstream media.

      Fashion police with questionable taste!

      The latest addition to the French hall of shame is the "burkini ban". The burkini is a full body swimsuit, basically a wetsuit with a hoodie. It is commonly worn by Muslim women at the beach, as it is modest. A number of towns along the French Riviera banned women from wearing the burkini with the excuse that it is "unhygienic", "a provocation by Islamists" and "contrary to French values". France’s Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, supported the ban and called the burkini part of a “political project” to enslave women. Laurence Rossignol, the French Minister for the Families, Children and Women's Rights, also spoke in favor of the ban on burkinis. In an interview with Le Parisien Newspaper, she said, "The burkini agitates so much because of its collective political dimension. It does not only concern the women who wear it. The burkini is the symbol of a political project that is hostile to diversity and empowerment."

      The amount of ridiculous and irrational logic here amazes me! The outfit worn by a woman while enjoying her time with family and friends at the beach is somehow linked to an extremist political project?!

      Telling women what to wear or not to wear when going to enjoy a day at the beach, this is extremism!

      The photos taken on the beach in Nice, France that went viral on social media were outrageous: four armed male police officers surrounded a woman who was peacefully sleeping on the sand wearing leggings, a long sleeve shirt and a head scarf. They forced her to remove her long sleeve shirt before writing her a ticket. This is the French government’s way to uphold women's rights: humiliating women and ordering them to undress in public!

      The state and the police have no business telling women how they should dress. Any law that forces a woman to undress in public is sexist and misogynistic. Claiming that women who choose to wear a burkini somehow pose a threat to "the republic'' is laughable. However, the police and government actions are a clear violation of these women’s civil and human rights, fining them and forcing them to remove their clothing in public is a clear violation of their bodies. The French Prime Minister and other French officials who have defended the burkini ban, are defending a sexist and islamophobic attack to further humiliate and alienate Muslim women.

      For them it is inconceivable that a Muslim woman spends a day at a beach, enjoying the sun, sand and waves. She must be out there plotting against French values and freedoms! As French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said: "The burkini is an anti-social political project... It is not compatible with the values of France and the Republic. Faced with such provocations, the Republic must defend itself.'' These types of comments push French Muslim women further out of public spaces and public life. These types of comments help to confine women to their homes on a sunny summer day while their fellow citizens enjoy a day at the beach or the pool. It is unclear which French values are being defended here?! Not liberty, nor equality, nor fraternity!

      If Manuel Valls really cared about championing women's rights maybe he should stop telling women what to wear and start listening to the real issues they care about: women are gravely hit by the high unemployment rates, especially among youth of the banlieues (suburbs). One woman dies every two days from domestic violence, and more than 86,000 women a year are victims of rape or attempted rape. In France, men earn a wage 34.6% higher than women. Today, France is ranked in 63rd place internationally for female participation in parliament (even lower than their former colonies Tunisia and Algeria). Maybe Manuel Valls and his government should focus on these real struggles for égalité (equality) and leave the burkini alone!

      Divide and Conquer

      Vilifying Muslims and obsessing about the burkini helps distract attention from the many social and economic problems in France. It creates animosity and fear towards people from the Middle East and North Africa and scapegoats Muslim immigrants and refugees as responsible for the failures of capitalism in France. Islam is the new boogeyman and islamophoia is the new tool to justify their wars at home and abroad.

      France never broke away from its shameful colonial exploitive history. From the days of the Algerian war until today the French military continues its imperialist wars and missions in Africa and the Middle East. France was one of the first countries to beat the drums of war against Libya and joined the U.S. led coalition in bombing and destroying that country causing over 400,000 Libyans to flee their homes. According to the French armed forces website, the French military counts around 10,300 military personnel deployed in overseas operations (as of February 25, 2015). Over 3,000 troops are spread throughout Africa and a total of 3,200 military troops are deployed to Iraq.

      Islamophobia is a tool for France and other imperialist ruling classes, not only to divide their own societies and put people against each other, but more importantly to mobilize the masses of non-Muslims in imperialist countries against Muslim people around the world. This helps their purpose of justifying their long run wars and occupations in their efforts to dominate the global market and economy.

      Together we stand!

      The outrageous photos from the beach in Nice made headlines around the world. A huge amount of support and indignation poured in on social media. Muslims and non-Muslims joined together to voice their opposition to the burkini ban and the rise of islamophobia in France, Europe, and also here in North America.

      Numerous protests took place around the world in front of French embassies and consulates to oppose the ban. A make shift beach appeared in front of the French embassy in London, women wearing bikinis, burkinis, swimsuits and all sorts of clothing, gathered with signs and banners denouncing islamophobia and standing up for a woman’s right to dress as she pleases. The “Wear What You Want Beach Party” was an important show of strength and unity in fighting against racism and sexism.

      Fariah Syed, one of the organizers of this protest told the Metro Newspaper, “We set up the event to show solidarity with Muslim women, not only in France but around the world.” She continued, “Women should be allowed to wear what they want, when they want. Women should be treated as equals regardless of their religion.”

      On Friday August 26, 2016 France's highest administrative court overturned the ban on burkinis. This ruling by the Council of State specifically concerns the ban in the town of Villeneuve-Loubet. It is unclear if others towns will uphold the ban.

      The struggle against islamophobia in France and internationally continues. Canada is no stranger to the rise of islamophobia and racism. On August 6, 2016 two violent attacks took place in Burnaby, British Columbia, where a man assaulted a women wearing the veil while shouting racial slurs.

      As peace loving people, we have a duty to organize against racism and islamophobia. We must work to educate and mobilize Muslim and non-Muslim communities to counter the imperialist government and mass media campaign to divide us based on hatred and fear. We must build mass organizations to unite all working, poor and oppressed people in the fight against racism, islamophobia and sexism.

      Follow Azza on Twitter:@Azza_R14

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