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Court in Nice: Just Because Our City Was Attacked Doesn’t Mean We Can Ban Burkinis

A court in Nice ruled that just because the city is crippled by fear, it can't ban the burkini.

Models clad in burqini swimsuits pose for photos with Australian-Lebanese designer Aheda Zanetti (C) in western Sydney on August 19, 2016. 
The light-weight, quick-drying two-piece swimsuit which covers the body and hair has been banned from French beaches by several mayors in recent weeks following deadly attacks linked to Islamic jihadists. / AFP / SAEED KHAN        (Photo credit should read SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Models clad in burqini swimsuits pose for photos with Australian-Lebanese designer Aheda Zanetti (C) in western Sydney on August 19, 2016. The light-weight, quick-drying two-piece swimsuit which covers the body and hair has been banned from French beaches by several mayors in recent weeks following deadly attacks linked to Islamic jihadists. / AFP / SAEED KHAN (Photo credit should read SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Last month, Rudy Salles, deputy mayor of the French city of Nice, said that when Europeans go to the beach, they do so exclusively in revealing bathing suits — not in any clothing that would cover them up.

“When you go to the beach, you have a bathing suit,” he told the BBC in an interview intended to defend his city’s ban on burkinis, the full-body swimsuit favored by some Muslim women. “A bathing suit, in Europe, we know what it is. So when you go to an Arab country, if you want to go in a bikini, you can’t. So when you are in Europe, you have be like everyone is on the beach.”

So it’s probably safe to assume he was disappointed Thursday when the top administrative court in Nice ruled that fear of a terrorist attack does not authorize French officials to control what women wear to the beach.

“In the absence of such risks, the emotions and the concerns resulting from terrorist attacks, and especially from the attack on July 14, are insufficient grounds to legally justify the contested ban,” the court ruled, referencing the deadly truck terror attack that killed 86 in the southern town during Bastille Day celebrations.  

The ruling came just a week after a similar ruling on a burkini ban in the town of Villeneuve-Loube, which had also cited “security concerns” to ban the garment. That ruling determined that banning the full-body swimsuits was a “serious and clearly illegal violation of fundamental freedoms.” Unlike the burqa — a garment worn by some Muslims that covers the entire face and is illegal to wear in public in France — the burkini just covers swimmers’ bodies and hair. Essentially, it is just a wetsuit with a hood.

That judicial smackdown helped pave the way for similar reversals on other bans in the 30-odd French towns that took measures in recent weeks to ensure no woman was fully covered on a beach. And while the uproar over the burkini may die down as autumn approaches, the political support behind the bans — Prime Minister Manuel Valls called the burkini “the affirmation of political Islam in the public space” — could spark a resurgence next summer.

Photo credit: SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images

Siobhán O’Grady is a freelance journalist working across sub-Saharan Africa. She previously worked as a staff writer at Foreign Policy. @siobhan_ogrady

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