Category: International News Written by News Desk
The French government has defended municipal bans on body-covering burkini swimwear designed for Muslim women but called on mayors to try to cool tensions between communities.
Three Mediterranean towns – Cannes, Villeneuve-Loubet and Sisco on the island of Corsica – have banned the burkini, and Le Touquet on the Atlantic coast plans to do the same. The mainly conservative mayors who have imposed the ban say the garment, which leaves only the face, hands and feet exposed, defies French laws on secularism. The burkini debate is particularly sensitive in France given the number of deadly attacks by Islamic extremist militants, including bombings and shootings in Paris where 130 people were killed last November, which have raised tensions between communities and made people wary of public places. The socialist government’s minister for women’s rights, Laurence Rossignol, said municipal bans on the burkini should not be seen in the context of terrorism but that she supported the bans.
“The burkini is not some new line of swimwear; it is the beach version of the burqa and it has the same logic: hide women’s bodies in order to better control them,” Rossignol told French daily Le Parisien.
France, which has the largest Muslim minority in Europe, estimated at 5 million, in 2010 introduced a ban on full-face niqab and burqa veils in public. Rossignol said the burkini had led to tensions on French beaches because of its political dimension. “It is not just the business of those women who wear it, because it is the symbol of a political project that is hostile to diversity and women’s emancipation,” she said.
On Saturday, a brawl broke out between Muslim families and a group of young Corsicans on a beach in Sisco. There has been no confirmation from police or the local prosecutor’s office as to whether anyone on the beach was wearing a burkini at the time, but the mayor banned burkinis on Monday. In other recent attacks in France, a Tunisian man deliberately drove a truck into crowds in Nice on 14 July, killing 85 people, and a Roman Catholic priest had his throat cut in church by two French Muslims.
The attacks have made many people anxious. On Sunday, 41 people were injured in a stampede in the Riviera town of Juan-les-Pins when holidaymakers mistook the sound of firecrackers for gunfire. Villeneuve-Loubet’s mayor, Lionnel Luca, who is a member of the hardline Droite populaire faction of the conservative Les Républicains party, said the burkini was an ideological provocation. “Since the Nice attack, the population is particularly sensitive,” he told Le Parisien. He said the burkini raised hygiene issues and could make rescue at sea more difficult. On Tuesday the Collective against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) filed a complaint about the bans with the Conseil d’État, France’s highest administrative court, which is expected to hand down a ruling in the coming days.
CCIF’s spokesman, Marwan Muhammad, said the bans restricted fundamental liberties and discriminated against Muslim women. “This summer we are witnessing a hysterical political Islamophobia that pits citizens against one another,” he said.