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Swimming pools, Islamic dress and colonial differentiation: the cleansing role of law in 'the republic [that] lives through an uncovered face'
journal contributionposted on 15.02.2021, 09:45 by Kimberley Brayson
On 23 June 2019, seven Muslim women staged a protest at a swimming pool in Grenoble, France in defiance of rules prohibiting burkinis in swimming pools. French law 2010–1192 criminalizes the bodies of visibly Muslim women by prohibiting full-face coverings in French public space. This creates precarious bodies through law and facilitates an institutional Islamophobia, which I argue circulates in French society through a logic of hygiene. This logic of hygiene refers not merely to cleanliness but to the racial purity of the French republic. Law performs a dual cleansing role: it cleanses public space(s) of the presence of colonial markers and acts to displace colonial memory in France. This article traces the emergence of pro-ban feminist arguments supporting the criminalization of Islamic dress in France to a historical foundation of humiliation and cleanliness in post-WWII shavings of the hair of dissident French women. The article draws parallels with the forced uncovering of the hair of Muslim women in historical colonialism and in contemporary France to conceptualize hair as the patriarchal symbol of the French republic. Muslim women are made precarious through law's complicity with the hygiene and sterilization agendas of French coloniality and post-war capitalist modernization. The conclusion is that Muslim women are the site of the racial and gender differentiation necessary for the maintenance of the French republic.