French Court to Anti-Burkini Mayors: No, You Can’t Actually Ban Swimsuits.
The reversal on burkini bans began on Friday when a French court suspended the ban in one tourist town.
It’s been a whirlwind of a summer for the burkini, the full-body swimsuit worn by some Muslim women who prefer to cover up when they visit beaches or pools.
The burkini is essentially a wet suit with a hood, but it went from being marketed as a major step forward in progressive Muslim fashion to being disparaged as a security threat by European officials who want it banned in public spaces.
Nowhere has this caused more of an uproar than in secular France, where some 30 local governments have implemented legal bans on the swimsuits and, in at least one case, forced a Muslim woman to remove layers of her clothing at a beach in Nice. The legality of the bans came into further question this week when photos emerged of police officers approaching her and appearing to write her a ticket while she removed her tunic to reveal her bare arms.
But on Friday, the highest administrative court in France said the burkini ban in Villeneuve-Loubet, one of the towns that has banned it, “seriously and clearly illegally breached fundamental freedoms.”
The targeting of the burkini came in the aftermath of multiple terrorist attacks in France over the past year, including an Islamic State-linked truck attack in Nice that killed more than 80 people on July 14. Critics of the bans have pointed to the move to outlaw Muslim women’s beach garb as direct backlash for the attacks, while officials defended it by saying it is a political statement that aligns women wearing it with Islamism, and could thus cause public disturbances.
Friday’s decision, which suspended the legality of the ban in Villeneuve-Loubet, could pave the way for the bans to be overturned elsewhere — which would be seen as a major victory for human rights groups that have called the bans an insult to freedom of expression.
“French authorities must now drop the pretense that these measures do anything to protect the rights of women,” said John Dalhuisen, European director for Amnesty International. “These bans do nothing to increase public safety but do a lot to promote public humiliation.”
Photo credit: ANOEK DE GROOT/AFP/Getty Images