Ban on Burkinis ? A Case of Rising Intolerance in France

With nearly 230 deaths and thousands injured in a span of eighteen months owing to as many as seven horrifying terror attacks, France has been on high alert for most of the past year. Although the emergency declared by President Francois Hollande last September was to end in July this year, it was further extended for a period of three months in the wake of another terrorist attack just as the emergency was nearing its end. Islamic State of Iraq & Syria (ISIS) claimed the terror attack. ?All of France is under the threat of Islamic terrorism,? President Hollande declared. ?We must show absolute vigilance and determination.?

Amid such turmoil and tension, it is only expected of the authorities to act promptly in order to ensure the safety of its citizens. But an ordinance issued by Cannes Mayor David Linsard has left many in a state of utter confusion. Citing ?security concerns?, the seaside city of Cannes has barred the full-body, head-covering swimsuits called ?Burkini? worn by some Muslim women. Following the ban, violators will first be asked to change into another swimming costume or leave the beach, failing which they will risk a fine of 38 euros.

The ordinance issued by the Cannes Mayor states that swimwear “manifesting religious affiliation in an ostentatious way, while France and its religious sites are currently the target of terrorist attacks, could create risks of trouble to public order”. The mayor has called the burkini “the uniform of extremist Islamism” in an interview published in local newspaper Nice-Matin.  The beachwear ?does not respect good morals and secularism? he added.  During the interview, the mayor also said ?the measure could also apply to saris worn by Indian bathers, because the clothing could hamper rescuers’ efforts to save them in an emergency?.

Supporting the controversial ban, Villeneuve-Loubet has decided to follow the footsteps of Cannes, barring people from entering or swimming in public beaches wearing the full body swimsuit.

Last week, a one-day private pool day event in Marseille for Muslim women who choose to wear burkinis while swimming was cancelled by the organizers after politicians on the extreme right the initiative by a women?s association.

While the mayor of Cannes has been very vocal about his removal of symbols of ?religious affiliations? during a ?sensitive time? when it comes to Islam, it is worthy to note that the ruling does not ban either the Jewish kippah or the cross. In an attempt to elucidate the mayor?s statement, Thierry Migoule, Cannes? head of municipal services, said, ?We are not talking about banning the wearing of religious symbols on the beach. But ostentatious clothing which refers to an allegiance to terrorist movements which are at war with us.?

Thierry Migoule?s clarification would have been amusing, were it not so absurd. Wearing hijabs or headscarves in public places is already banned in France. Blatantly linking somebody?s choice of beachwear to their potential affiliation with terrorist groups is only a sign of deepening religious rifts, rising Islamophobia and intolerance that the Muslim community in France is at the receiving end of.

Reacting to the “illegal, discriminatory and unconstitutional” ban, The Collective Against Islamophobia pointed out a crucial fact. It urged tolerance, highlighting that Muslims made up about a third of the 85 victims of the July 14 truck attack on the Nice seafront, following which the ordinance has been issued. – ?Must we remind this mayor that about 30 of the victims of the attack in Nice were Muslims, because terrorism targets us all indiscriminately??

Three women backed by The Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) filed a suit challenging the legality of the Cannes? ordinance. However, in a disappointing move, a court in Nice rejected the request, saying the ban was legal under French law forbidding people from “invoking their religious beliefs to skirt common rules regulating relations between public authorities and private individuals”. The uproar has left many concerned.

With almost five million Muslims in the country, Islam is France’s second most followed religion. Many fear that such a ban which infringes upon the rights of a particular religious community would only aid feelings of alienation amongst the Islamic community in France. “There is a feeling now that France is at war with its own citizens. Today they are Muslims, and yesterday they were Jews,” says Yasser Louati, a disheartened human rights and civil liberties activist. “French elites cannot live in peace with minorities.”

– Contributed by Pragya, a Student of Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in Journalism

Picture Source: Nissrine Samali, 20, gets into the sea wearing traditional Islamic dress, in Marseille, southern France (Associated Press)

Most Popular

To Top