Written by Sevgi Yildiz.
At approximately 6pm on the evening of Thursday, December 15 1955 in the heat of American racial segregation, a woman by the name of Rosa Parks finished her shift at work, paid her bus fare and sat in the first row of the allocated ‘coloured’ section of her bus. When the white section filled up however, the White bus driver (whom Rosa had experienced friction with in the past) moved the detachable ‘coloured’ section sign behind Rosa’s seat and asked all four occupants of that row to move. Three of the coloured passengers moved, Rosa, bless her heart, did not. Her refusal to vacate her seat for a white passenger and defy a 55 year old law, a law older than herself by 13 years, a law she was born into and had been her norm her whole life, a law she didn’t know better than, made her one of the most crucial figures of the civil rights movement thereafter.
Years later in an interview, she said “When that white driver stepped back toward us, when he waved his hand and ordered us up and out of our seats, I felt a determination to cover my body like a quilt on a winter night.”
Please, read it with me again and remember it. “…I felt a determination to cover my body like a quilt on a winter night.”
Approximately 6 decades later, on a sunny Tuesday on August 24 2016, a young mother of two by the name of Siam lays on a beach in Nice, France soaking in some rays as her children play when she is confronted by four armed police officers for “…wearing improper clothes that are not respectful of good morals and secularism.” Siam is then seen undressing, either by force of the armed police or of her own accord but still incurs the 38euro fine, a hike in comparison to Rosa Parks’s $10 not including the $4 court fee she subsequently accrued.
Witness reports state that fellow beach goers were yelling “go home” to Siam as they applauded the police while her daughter cried in fear.
Image via The Guardian.
The fear here is what sends chills down my spine. The fear of law enforcement, our protectors; the police and state we look up to for justice and safety. The fear of our fellow people who applaud injustice and ridicule our rights.
The fear Siam and her daughter undeniably felt, drove her, unlike Rosa who wanted to cover her body like a quilt on a winter night, to strip. A bunch of men with guns made a woman minding her own business, strip. And people applauded them. In 2016. Not the 1950s. Not in an underdeveloped third world country. In France.
As a child, Rosa Parks watched her grandfather guard the front door of their suburban home with a shotgun as members of the KKK reeked havoc on their street. Siam’s daughter watched her mother strip in public in the name of obedience and respecting the ‘good morals of secularism’ as four men wielding guns surrounded her in open air.
I am bypassing the fact that the ‘good morals’ of secularism France is enforcing is completely and utterly immoral. I am bypassing the fact that a thin tunic is ridiculously being viewed as an item which ‘overtly manifests adherence to a religion’. I am bypassing the fact that this woman was simply laying there with “no intention of swimming” and is and was absolutely in no way a threat to her fellow beach goers. If I focus on the flaws in this blanket law and situation, I lose focus on what we need to do in light of such atrocious examples of law and power. I don’t want us to get caught up in the minutia of the situation.
When asked why she didn’t give up her seat, Rosa quite simply states that she was “…tired of giving in.” The thought of this scares me. That women and men, Muslim or otherwise will wait and oblige in obedience to laws made in the name of white supremacy, which to me isn’t too different or too far a stretch from secularism anymore, until we are tired of giving in. No single person or group of people, religion, race or sect should have to become tired of ‘giving in’. They should never have to give in in the first place. Because giving in means giving up your rights to be human in the way you have chosen and fashioned for yourself.
I don’t want to have to watch as secularist and socialist laws take over our world, introducing the new norm for our children to be born into and embrace as given. I don’t want to have to wait 55 years for Siam’s daughter or one of our daughters yet to be born, like Rosa Parks, to challenge the authorities and their forcibly imposed norm. I don’t want to wait for a revolution. I don’t want to wait for a ‘Muslim rights movement’.
I don’t want the brunt of our obedience, commonplace acceptance and years of ‘giving in’ to be placed on the shoulders of a sole, brave young woman yet to come.
I don’t want oppression. And yes, this is oppression. Whether you forcibly make a woman cover up or strip down, especially with guns at hand, it is oppression. No one should want this. No one should have to accept this. I believe that every day, we must stand up against oppression. Oppression manifests itself differently in each of our lives.
No matter what form it comes to you in, it is your duty for your sake and the sake of our future generations to recognise it for what it is, and refuse to give up our seats.