French burkini bans face legal challenge as tension mounts
France’s highest administrative authority is studying whether local bans on full-body burkini swimsuits are legal, amid growing concerns in the country and abroad about police forcing Muslim women to disrobe.
Images of uniformed police appearing to require a woman to take off her tunic, and media accounts of similar incidents, have elicited shock and anger online this week.
Some fear that burkini bans in several French towns are worsening religious tensions. The bans, based on a strict application of secularism policies, have exposed division within the government.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls told BFM television on Thursday that burkinis represent “the enslavement of women” and reiterated his support to mayors who have banned them.
But Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, a feminist with North African roots, said while she doesn’t like the burkini swimsuit, bans of the garment are politically driven and unleashing racist sentiment.
“My dream of society is a society where women are free and proud of their bodies,” she said on Europe-1 radio. But with tension in France high, after a series of deadly Islamic extremist attacks, she said, “We shouldn’t add oil to the fire” by banning burkinis.
Critics of the local decrees have said the orders are too vague, prompting local police officials to fine even women wearing the traditional Islamic head scarf and the hijab, but not burkinis.
The Prime Minister has urged the police to implement the ban fairly and respectfully.
Two human rights groups, arguing the bans are discriminatory, have appealed to the Council of State to overturn the measures.
Wearing burkini a provocation, says Sarkozy
Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has labelled the full-body burkini swimsuits worn by some Muslim women a “provocation” that supports radicalised Islam, amid a heated debate over a ban on the swimwear in France. In an interview to Le Figero Magazine, Sarkozy said: “Wearing a burkini is a political act, it’s militant, a provocation,” the Independent reported on Thursday. “If we do not put an end to this, there is a risk that in 10 years, young Muslim girls who do not want to wear the veil or burkini will be stigmatised and peer-pressured,” Sarkozy added.