This year’s summer has seen high temperatures and, also heated debates. The burkini bans that were established in seaside towns in France were the cause of much controversy. The burkini is a type of very conservative swimwear that is worn at the beach. It covers the woman’s body almost completely. It leaves just the face, hands and feet exposed to the sun and onlookers. Although anybody can wear a burkini, it is predominantly muslim women that wear them.
Enforcing the Burkini Ban
The burkini ban was a measure that 30 towns on the French coast took this summer. It was a reaction to recent terrorist attacks, especially the one in Nice on the 14th of July, Bastille Day. At a local level, the mayors instituted a measure to not allow women to wear the burkini to the beach.
The burkini has caused a debate in France. France is a country that is very proud of the freedoms afforded to the individual there. Secularism in France leaves little room for religious symbols.
Public statements about the burkini ban ranged from one side of the debate to the other. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that the muslim headscarf is not representative of French culture. Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front party stated that “The burkini is actually a symptom, one of the multiple symptoms, of the rise in fundamentalist Islam in France”.
The mayors of French coastal towns took individual initiative and banned the burkini from public beaches. The police enforced the ban asking women on the beach to either take it off or pay a fine.
Sefen Guez is an attorney for the Collective Against Islamophobia in France. The organization released a statement saying that there were at least 10 instances where the ban was used — five in Nice and five in Cannes. He said that “the bans are political rhetoric aimed at winning elections, rather than a security precaution or a way to reduce tensions”.
Court Rulings on the Burkini Ban
It was necessary for court rulings to state whether or not the bans should remain in place. Court rulings for the towns of Villeneuve-Loubet and Cannes deemed the measure unlawful. The decision stated plainly that the mayor of a town cannot decide about the attire of beach-goers.
However, despite the court rulings twenty-two towns have decided to keep the burkini ban in place. At the risk of upholding a controversial measure, the mayors of those towns stand by their decision. For the future, it is still not ok to wear an attire fully covering your body on a French public beach. On the grounds of its associations with religious extremism.
After banning the niqab, the full-face veil in 2011 France goes a step further in regulating attire. Attire that muslim women that are part of French society usually wear. In a heated debate about religious freedom and women’s individual freedom, France is at a standstill. So far, it seems to want to de facto leave the burkini ban in place.
Image source: here.