Beach bans on the burkini in France sparks widespread debate

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By Euronews
Beach bans on the burkini in France sparks widespread debate

You might think at first sight that the bikini does not respect correctness and morality as stated in a bylaw in the popular Mediterranean resort of Cannes.

But that is not the case in France this summer and the burkini debate illustrates how the country has found itself in a state of confusion over the summer swim wear.

As a secular country France keeps religious symbols out of public life. The city of Cannes took the stance to ban the burkini citing security reasons. It is also specified – though a burkini is never named – that beachwear respecting secularism is compulsory as the Mayor of another town pointed out when justifying the ban.

“I want us to stop becoming conspicuous and getting into a kind of apartheid by dressing differently. This is France, it is the French Republic, where everyone is equal regardless of race or religion,” opined Lionel Luca Mayor of Villeneuve-Loubet.

So what is this ‘community of France’? Is there a uniform to be worn in public places? There is no legal framework for such bans on this beachwear which was created in 2003 by a Lebanese designer in Australia for Muslims to respect their beliefs.

“The only outfit that is prohibited is the burka that conceals the face. That is not the case here. Today girls who swim in a burkina are hiding the same parts of their body as those who wear a hijab. So Muslim women are being stigmatized and excluded from the beaches and swimming areas,” pointed out Feiza Ben Mohamed from the Muslim Association of France.

The bans have caused incomprehension and concern. One young girl summed up the confusion over the action.

“It’s ridiculous, because I see people on the beach who are totally naked. I can’t see why we can’t dress,” she said.

It is a very French debate which to foreigners can surprise or amuse. What for instance is the difference between a burkina and wetsuits or those who cover up to protect themselves from the sun. For one it is even dangerous.

“It raises hatred and has created a war within the population and that is abominable. It means in France we make a distinction between who is a Salafist and who is not,” explained Herve Lavisse from the League of Human Rights.

France remains on edge after the recent terror attacks in Nice and the north of the country. Authorities have struggled to provide adequate answers to how some of their citizens were radicalised.

In Corsica a brawl broke out where women were bathing in burkinis. It is unclear what sparked the fighting but reports suggested a man argued with a tourist after accusing him of photographing the women. Five were injured.

Is outlawing the swim wear likely to avoid tension which the mayors who have prohibited the burkini argue or add to the stigmatization of Muslims? But perhaps the real question for many is will it serve in the interests of the fight against terrorism?