By Alison Figueiredo.
We arrived in Nice at the beginning of the summer around June in order to take care of my father who lives here and who suffered a stroke. My four year old son and I alongside my now frail mother faced this enormous challenge head on and with as much courage as we could muster. But without the Catholicism of Nice I perhaps would not have made it through this Summer with so much resting on my shoulders.
I’ve been blessed with this soothing balm. The church bells calling out every day on most streets, the beautiful baroque churches in the old town, the stunning Franciscan monastery in Cimiez where I take refuge after every painful visit with my beloved father, the sung Old Rite masses and daily rosary. Christian Estrosi the Mayor of the Region wished us all a Happy Feast of the Assumption on his FB page. Can we ever imagine a London Mayor doing that?
I feel very at home with Catholicism here. The slow steady rise of French Catholicism has not gone unnoticed in the mainstream either. I love attending Tridentene mass here, full of young families and led by the beautiful Penitents Rouges. Today was particularly special, celebrated by a recently ordained priest. One of 12 ordained in July by Cardinal Burke, 8 of whom were French.
On the 14th July we waited for the traditional fireworks across the road and my son fidgeted with excitement at attending. Then, mercifully as it turns out, he fell asleep. Around 11 I went onto the balcony to clear away plant pots buffeted by the mistral and heard screams I will never forget. The buzzer went repeatedly, I answered but no one responded. My blood ran cold. Something wasn’t right.
After a series of panicked phone calls from family telling us they could see our hallway on Fox News we switched on the TV to see the dark blue entrance of our building filled with screaming people, families and children panicking and clamouring to escape another Islamic terrorist attack. Right on our doorstep. The white lorry used to mow down and kill over 80 people – some of whom were babies still in their pushchairs, came to a stop right outside our building. For a day afterwards we were in lockdown as the army scoped out the underground parking area beneath our building believing a group of terrorists had used it to hide. It was terrifying and for two nights I slept in front of the inside of the front door to block it and protect my mother and child.
A month on and Already it’s forgotten by the world. The orphaned children, the many with life changing disabilities, the grief of parents, the bloodstains which remain across the road and pavement which were never removed, thousands of teddy bears, thousands of Catholic Church candles scattered along the Promenade. The world has already moved on anaesthetised to the violence, Facebook profiles switched back to normal.
The focus at the end of the Summer has turned to the hurt sensibilities of the Muslim community. The anger now directed at Islamophibes. Frankly, realising how close my son and I came to death, having spoken to neighbours traumatised at escaping with their lives and protecting their handicapped daughter, reading the endless lists of global victims after these attacks, I freely admit I’m phobic. Because like Christian Estrosi, I too fear Salafism (an Islamic movement based on a literal reading of the Quran) and have long been familiar with its malign influences on Islam in Europe, it’s insidious grip on Muslim youth and culture. And like many in France, a country battered by a series of attacks, I feel there is next to nothing to convince me that mainstream Islam is anything other than at fault for its very own failure to challenge it. Islam has become more so than ever before a political force waging a cultural war as well as violent jihad. These so called groups challenging Islamophobia are merely Salafism by stealth.
As far back as the 90s the undercurrent of Salafism has reshaped Islam in France. When I undertook a research project on it for my University degree I recall the interviews with Imams conducted in living rooms bereft of furniture, sat cross legged on the floor, dreaming of the Caliphate. I could sense the unease of my Algerian university friend who had abandoned Islam and become an apostate and atheist, expressing endless concern for the religion his parents practised versus that of their increasingly agitated children.
French feminism supported by Muslim women has since mostly swung behind the various veil debates in opposition to the veil, supporting veil bans, in stark contrast to the rest of western feminists. They’ve been rightly vocal about the atrocities committed on women in the suburbs who fail to dress appropriately. They’ve even had the courage to recognise that some women will dress to make a statement of Salafist intent rather than express any element of faith. French Research backs this up.
Eventually we re-emerged onto the Nice beaches and tried to carry on. The weight of the hospital visits and terrorism meant the beaches and pools were an important break with my son. And that’s when I first noticed the Burqini. A direct flight from Dubai to Nice has increased wealthy Muslim visitors and they bring with them this bizarre woman eviscerating swimsuit. The husbands bear all. Their prepubescent daughters are forced into a similar child’s version which stops at the knees instead of the ankles, while their brothers wear trunks. It is therefore no surprise to me at all to see France challenge this latest cultural drive.
France is hurting after so many grotesque attacks. It is concerned at how to crush the grip of Salafism. It’s politicians broadly represent the views of its citizens rather than working to silence them.
The imam (of course) who circulated the picture of nuns on the beach has helped create enough confusion that even the vice mayor of Nice wound up ludicrously cornered over the issue of nuns habits and clumsily attempted to bat the issue away. And presumably the Habits of the Penitents Rouges of Nice. But Estrosi, the French Prime Minister and Sarkozy are all crystal clear.
“There is, firstly, political Islam, which exploits a religion that is the fact of a few. The burkini is not a religious sign, it is the affirmation in the public space for political Islamism” – F. Valls – French Prime Minister.
And the president of the Islamic organisations if France makes clear it is not Islamic dress for modesty.
“I say that the Burkini is not part of the Muslim Faith.” – National President of the Union of Islamic Organisations of France
The burqini is not required religious dress. It is a political uniform. It is an act of communautarism as Estrosi went to lengths to indicate. It is an obvious middle finger to society around them, anti woman in the message it sends just like the chador and niqab – that it is a woman’s responsibility to manage at all times the apparently unrelenting desires of infidel men.
Unlike nuns who submit their lives to God this is about submitting to the will of your husband who lays claim to your body, or pronouncing your admiration for that concept to the world even while women across the world suffer under Salafist groups who mandate it. When this matter is put to debate in Parliament this issue of habits versus burqini will become clearer. I also expect them to address the rise in the chador here for the same reasons. Put simply. These are the simple but worthy values of France and of the West. Accept them.
As I witnessed, but didn’t photograph and share on Twitter, one wife who dipped her feet in the kids pool without the proscribed attire was pulled rudely from the pool by her husband, beaten and made to go change. Another simply got into the kids pool wearing her trainers, which was incredibly unsanitary.
I also strongly suspect the initial incident and outrage was fabricated. A woman in a burqini sits on the beach stones, alone with no husband, not mat, no towel, no bag and is curiously photographed by long zoom lense? Oh please.
Yes the police here are heavily armed at the moment so approaching her in the manner that they did was quite wrong. Frankly though it’s equally outrageous to me to be forced to explain to my son why heavily armed soldiers in full combats need to patrol the Promenade all day long. People getting ants in their pants about the police being armed can hop it. They’re keeping us safe if that’s alright with you.
Catholics addressing the issue of modesty in the face of raunch culture beware, certainly there’s a discussion to be had about how we tackle raunch culture. But the burquni is not the answer. In fact this region is not the bare all anything goes region it once was. I’m curious that no one ever picked up on the story of the young London woman asked to put her bikini top back on with quite the same fury as they did the burqini.
Finally, No-one is suggesting women cannot dress to feel comfortable for the beach. I’ve never had any issues in dressing so that I feel modest, cool, comfortable and able to swim. I don’t need to make a statement to do it. Especially when that statement is frankly as sexualising as nudity. It screams I’m a sexual being – look at me. Highly immodest.
In France various mayors have defied the lower court order entirely and continue to maintain the bans. Particularly here in Nice where Estrosi could not care less about the latest reaction to his temporarily banning photographing the police. Apparently many of the burqa clad families have moved next door to Italy for some peace and quiet because the Italian mayors are more accommodating, where the same families are also now requesting separate beach shower facilities for Muslim women (Nice matin).
Oh Italy! The salafists are winning this war. They’re successfully hoodwinking many Europeans and have them dancing around on their behalves. Don’t be such utter obsequious fools.