Burkini’s Aren’t the Half of It

ACORN International Rights Wade's World Women

            Pearl River     As soon as I was contacted about talking to Emory Professor Falguni Sheth on Wade’s World about her book, Unruly Women:  Race, Neocolonialism, and the Hijab, I was in.  The Alliance Citoyenne, ACORN’s affiliate in France, had been fighting all levels of government there to overturn restricts on women with hijab being able to access public facilities.  This spring we had won a provision in the French national assembly to allow women with hijabs to play soccer on public fields.  Our members in Grenoble, Lyon, and Paris had done swim-ins at public pools in protest off and on over the last several years against huge resistance, finally winning in access in Grenoble this summer which provoked national reaction and resistance to our work.

Even before talking to Professor Sheth, I knew swimming and sports weren’t the whole story of discrimination against Muslim women.  In France, under the false flag of secularism they are banned from public employment and other benefits as well.  Sadly, France, Montreal, and increasingly India are not alone in such discrimination.  Much of Sheth’s work focused on how this discrimination works in the United States as well, where much of her research was focused, particularly in the court system, where one would have hoped that equal justice was a bedrock.  Key in her investigations were cases in Michigan where a judge in a small claims court refused to hear the case because a woman was veiled.  Sheth found, after more sleuthing, that this case, which was eventually successful, also involved a Black woman, putting her in double jeopardy, which is part of her point about how the dominant culture tries to police such “unruly women” who are seen as a threat to the status quo.  Religion, just as in France, has very little to do with it.

Neoliberalism is a huge factor as the state is corporatized, but, as Sheth also points out, so is neocolonialism.  Like slavery, the vestiges of imperial goals and practices continue to leech into social and political realities across the world, including in the USA.  As she writes, “…the mode of governance that is at play is economic, but camouflaged as a nuanced series of social practices.”  The insistence on “transparency” is little more than a cover for deeper fears that provoke such coercion.

Liberalism is inadequate protection, because the priority of liberalism is the protection of property.  The dominant trends in feminism, Sheth believes, are also inadequate to protect Muslim women, especially Black Muslim women, despite advances in discussions of intersectionality because of the dominance of liberal feminists and their inability to defend women, who are by definition threatening and therefore unruly.  Sheth’s argument is straightforward.  We need to challenge the fact “that racism or discrimination is non-existent unless it is explicit, spectacular, explosive, or confrontational.”

Hard to argue with that.