By now, the image reproduced here* has been making its way across the continent of Europe and beyond. The warp speed movement of information that we have at our fingertips has yet again presented us with a local issue that has now become a world wide one.

The question is, how far are we going to allow our liberty and freedom to be taken away in the face of fear and in the name of security?

Have we forgotten what it was like for so many of us across Europe to feel the heavy hand of the state pushing down on our human rights? From Ireland to Warsaw and from Lisbon to Bucharest, our lifetimes have seen oppression come in many forms; Communism, dictatorships and terrorism but to name a few. I have witnessed the fall of oppressive regimes across Europe being replaced by democratic states where the people can live in with the principals of freedom of speech, movement and right to protest just to name a few. Yet somehow, in 2016, there are those who feel that in order to fight oppression and terrorism, they must weed out some who do not conform to their idea of freedom and security.

So in order to ensure that they are being seen to be doing something, the governments always go for the weakest and easiest option. In this this case, it is women – Muslim women in particular, who are now targets for the security forces. Their crime? Not wearing appropriate clothing on a beach. Women are being forced to undress because they are apparently not wearing “an outfit respecting good morals and secularism”. These laws have been passed on a number of beaches across France and now, they starting to be enforced.

Just how this will contribute towards a safer society is completely beyond me. While I do have reservations about the current trends to ban full face covering in public as I can definitely see a case with regards to face recognition and preventing crimes. But how can a woman, or even a man if he chose to do so, be a threat to security because he or she is covered up on a beach? Could it be that they would have something concealed? But surely if that was the case, then they could use the concealed device or weapon anywhere. Cutting out a small percentage of public places is not eliminating a threat to security in my opinion.

Then there is the argument of not respecting morals and secularism. Here again, I’ll be dammed if I can find something immoral about covering up. In certain places across the world, it is deemed immoral to dress down, and I’m not even going to refer to Muslim states on that because there are many Christian societies that enforce draconian rules on dress as well. And what bugs me about this is, would they target a celebrity for example? They’ve been passing pictures around for the last few weeks of Nigella Lawson, the celebrity cook, wearing a full body outfit in the sea. I would love to test these laws out on the French police if say France Gall was to sit on a beach in full clothing.

It makes no sense other that the fact that these new laws are simply the easiest way to show a section of the French public that the local authorities are doing something. They are satisfying a demand that doesn’t even exist. I very much doubt the law makers who introduced this were inundated with emails, tweets and letters from their local citizens demanding that the women of their community must go bikini at a beaches. No, what we have here is just knee jerk populist reaction. Amid reports of support for this by locals, one must question the upbringing of these people. Faced with a terrorist threat, be it a small one, they simply don’t care about their own liberties being taken away. They see this as an us against them situation. It doesn’t affect them because they don’t dress that way. What they fail to realise is that they are supporting the start of lowering of human rights. States across the western world have tried it in the past and mostly failed but they never give up. They use situations like the recent terrorist attacks as a meal ticket to enforcing control over the populace. It’s a common mistake to let those who will promise to take action have too much power because power is a drug and those who have it are always very reluctant to give it away. It’s cheaper and easier for them to have more restrictions.

France has chosen a very specific part of their community and decided that they will pay for the recent attacks. It’s not a matter of law enforcement, security, morals or enforcing secularism. It simply a case of scapegoating and what a better target than Muslim women.

Can a Europe which is united prevent this happening in the future. Should they even be preventing it now? Or could it be worse in that if there was indeed a united Europe, would a crazy decision like this end up being enforced across the entire continent? Civil and human rights need to be one of the corner stones of Europe. And not in the future but now. How can we claim to be the most wonderful place in the world to live in if we cannot control hypersensitive local authorities from introducing ridiculous laws like this. There must be a line drawn in the sand against those who threaten our way of life. But it cannot be the sand on the beaches in southern France against women who simply dress their own way. We cannot be a culture that claims to respect others beliefs and then take those rights away in the name of being ‘safe’. All this does is limit our chances of educating young people and not radicalising them. Imagine a small boy who is sitting on the beach with his mother when three burly armed policemen come along and proceed to humiliate, and bully his mother into taking off her clothes. How is anybody going to explain to him that this is the law? All this does is create a scar in that child’s mind. His mother has been shamed, and people around him are looking on and not caring. The radicalisation starts there. And it was completely unnecessary.

Ken Sweeney
Committed to idea of supporting aspiring writers and journalists. Serial podcaster.

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