08/29/2016 04:40 EDT | Updated 08/29/2016 04:59 EDT

Banning Religious Attire Will Only Create More Division In Society

Stringer . / Reuters
A woman wearing a burkini walks in the water August 27, 2016 on a beach in Marseille, France, the day after the country's highest administrative court suspended a ban on full-body burkini swimsuits that has outraged Muslims and opened divisions within the government, pending a definitive ruling. REUTERS/Stringer

If you're a non-Muslim woman going scuba diving you're best to avoid the beaches of France where you may be fined or arrested for wearing a full body swimsuit. You may be identified as a Muslim women sporting a burkini in which case you risk being considered a threat to the public order. Your arrest in any one of the 30 French towns that have banned the burkini will reassure a frightened French public that effective measures are presumably being taken to diminish the threat of terrorism.

It's generous to say that such a ban is misguided. And, the suggestion that such a measure can be construed as being effective counterterrorism is bordering on ludicrous.

Thankfully France's highest administrative court swiftly ruled that French Mayors do not have the right to ban burkinis and their ruling temporarily suspends the ban. But we can't expect the mayors to thoughtfully adhere to the ruling. They're too invested politically in such action and have too many constituents that seem ready to delude themselves into thinking that something is being done to relieve their real anxieties about terrorism.

The simple answer is that such bans have no proven impact on reducing terrorist incidents.

Already other politicians are ready to jump into the fray. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has said he supports banning burkinis. Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is considering another run for the top job, said he would immediately enact a national ban of the swimsuits.

It's too much to ask French citizens to explain how banning the burkini in any way diminishes security threats. If bans on religious attire that are so popular in France were indeed so constructive in the fight against terrorism why are the levels of anxiety continually on the rise in the country?

The simple answer is that such bans have no proven impact on reducing terrorist incidents. If anything the surge in anti-Muslim commentary in social media that accompanies such bans further strains relations between Muslims and non-Muslims.

One would like to think that such folly would not spread to Canada. But some politicians know that there is a constituency that finds such measures very attractive. Quebecers and many other Canadians will recall that in 2014, the Parti Québécois (PQ) made a ban on religious symbols in the public service a central element of their electoral platform. They did so in the name of Quebec values, something clearly influenced by the French model of secularism.

Undoubtedly debates over religious symbols will not go away anytime soon.

In theory, while many Quebecers liked the idea of a ban, they seemed hesitant to see it implemented. They were uncomfortable with making it illegal for a practicing doctor to wear a keepa, a nurse displaying a cross, a daycare worker with a hijab or a university professor wearing a turban. In the end, the proposed measures did more to contribute to the defeat of the PQ than give them the votes they needed to secure a victory. Since then, the opposition PQ has appeared hesitant to follow France in the steps to purportedly uphold French values and/or reinforce security.

That has not prevented another Quebec political party from filling the void that the PQ has seemingly left in this regard. As such, the spokesperson for another provincial opposition party, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) was quick to insist that the government prohibit the burkini which was described as an unacceptable religious symbol. But in the aftermath of the decision of the French high court, the CAQ and its spokesperson Nathalie Roy suddenly reversed course and what was absolutely unacceptable one week became perfectly acceptable the next

Undoubtedly debates over religious symbols will not go away anytime soon. But the reversal of the CAQ on the burkini ban is a welcome precedent in a province where, thankfully, there appears increasingly less appetite for divisive proposals which often end up do more to question respect for fundamental rights that they do to serve the cause of secularism.

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