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Shape without drape: Muslim fashion du jour

Tens of thousands of Muslims marched through the streets of Paris yesterday to bid farewell to the burqa that is due to make its way out of French society, just in time for Summer 2010. Demonstrators cried, sang victory songs and waved an array of screaming banners: from the eccentric “Free at last” and “Thank you Sarkozy” to the more obscure ones like “Mum, I’m on TV” and “Kill the boer”.

It was a scene of extraordinary festivities as Muslim women from all over France, and Belgium united in a cacophony of naughty noor. Voluntarily dressed in this season’s uniform of movement constricting skinny jeans, slinky T-shirts proudly bearing “Adieu à la burqa” across well-proportioned chests and boldly accessorised with pink hijabs and yellow pumps, thousands of women completed the look with this season’s must have mahrams. Fashion insiders profess it to be the biggest movement since the French Revolution.

Liberté, égalité, fraternité the crowd chanted.

“We are here to demonstrate that while the burqa might be out, pumps are still in,” screamed CEO of Fashion Paris Simin Leveque over the loudspeaker to the boisterous crowd.

The burqa, a type of face and headgear created in pre-Islamic times to protect women from sand storms and kidnapping during tribal wars, was banned in Belgium last month, and moves are in place to ban it in France in time for this year’s Paris fashion week.

“Look, Europe has cobbled streets now and Eastern European women are the only ones trafficked these days,” says one demonstrator, Fatima Mumkhin.

“Muslim women are no longer under threat … can’t say the same about Romanians though,” adds Mumkhin. Organisers of the commemoration, a collaborative effort between Fashion Paris and Free the Women (FTW), a gender consultancy firm based in Colmar, say that they wanted to give the burqa “a flamboyant, post-modern send-off befitting an antiquity destined for the museum”.

“It belongs to the Louvre — and not on people’s faces,” laughs Leveque.

Leveque says that the response of Muslim women has been overwhelming.

“The thirty women who once wore the burqa in Belgium are here and they are thrilled to blend into the crowd in their new skinny jeans and tank tops”. “The boys love them,” Leveque smiles.

It is estimated that about 2 000 women bear the burqa out of a Muslim population that borders about 5 million in France.

Radwa el Sherbini, originally from Egypt says that she cannot wait for the new law to be instituted. She says that living in the tent had often brought stares from pensioners, children and stray dogs.

“The mutts used to snigger and bark at me … it was demeaning,” says El Sherbini.

She says that living in Europe as an economic migrant gave her the freedom to work, unlike millions of women denied this basic right in the “Muslim World”.

“I work 16 hours a day here, cleaning toilets in people’s houses — it is wonderful,” she says with a smile. But El Sherbini, no relative of Marwa, says that Muslims need to understand that if they abide by the rules, it is relatively easy to live in Europe.

“Europeans are tolerant and open-minded, and as long as you never say anything about the Holocaust, you are safe in this place,” she added.

Another woman, Almas Rafiki, from Morocco, married to an Algerian and living in Brussels, says that she couldn’t understand why the Muslim world was upset about the ban.

“European men appreciate our bodies more here,” she says angrily.

“And I love being a sex symbol,” Rafiki adds with a laugh.

Afreen Athiyabaushna, an Iranian now living Paris, says that the French government went into painstaking detail to establish whether the ban should be implemented.

“They went to each and every Muslim woman in this country and asked us if we were forced to wear the burqa,” Athiyabaushna says.

With glazed eyes she affirmed how grateful the malnourished and often starving migrants were for this progressive piece in legislation.

“Some of us go to sleep hungry, but our hearts are full, knowing that government doesn’t take our struggles at face-value,” said Athiyabaushna.

Athiyabaushna says that no matter what any expert said, the impending legislation did not mirror the continual shift to the right in Europe.

“Today it’s the burqa, tomorrow it will be the scarf and then they will tell us to change our names,” she smiles.

“But it’s a small price to pay to be Muslim in a free country … we are the promised virgins in paradise,” Athiyabaushna concludes.

The commemoration rounded the Champs Élysées and ended with a rock concert including Bono, Ricky Martin and Sami Yusuf, completing an extraordinary day in French history.

Toure Hergé a wildlife photographer said that in all his years documenting animal migration patterns in West Africa, he had never experienced such an inimitable energy.

“I don’t suppose Tintin could’ve ever imagined this,” said an exasperated Hergé. But sources within the usually impregnable right-wing groups say that the celebration has sent shock waves across the continent.

According to unconfirmed reports, there is growing concern that French President Nicholas Sarkozy’s fixation on emancipating Muslim women from the clutches of their uncivilised life might set an unhealthy precedent.

Jean le Marc, one member of Merde Mossalman said that the new law banning the burqa would shift the social structure of French society.

“I am not sure if the economy can handle a sudden rush of free Muslim women in the job market,” said Le Marc.

“People think they are uneducated, socially inept and only good for making babies but we know for a fact that most of them have read The Kite Runner, he added.

But Le Marc is not the only one who says that Europe might just get more than what they bargained for by promulgating this law.

The domestic violence desk outside the Gare de l’Est train station say they stand to lose millions now that the burqa was on its way out.

“The burqa kept us in business; we will be suing the French government for damages and loss of income,” says Rene Durand.

Alberto Mattarazzi, a medical-sociologist in Rome says that there needs to be some regulation in the removal of the scarf or veil.

“Firstly, we don’t know what we will find under those veils,” said Mattarazzi.

“And secondly, if they stop covering their head as well, they might be prone to more colds and flu in the first six months; we might just end up with another break out of swine flu,” explained a candid Mattarazzi.

But he warns that that the newly emancipated women would have to be rehabilitated before they could face European society.

Fashion Paris CEO Leveque said the success of this commemoration signals the need to spread the love, with more events planned for Brussels, Berlin and Rome later this month.

“Ultimately, I want to take this road show to downtown Kabul to show them what European life is all about,” says Leveque.

“I would die for an opportunity like that,” concluded Leveque.