French court to rule on burqini bans

PARIS, Aug. 25 (UPI) — A French court will hear arguments Thursday to overturn bans by 26 municipalities on full-body swimsuits known as burqinis.

Most of the offenses, typically involving fines, have occurred on French Riviera beaches. Although the style is in accord with Muslim law and tradition, allowing Muslim women an opportunity to visit beaches, those favoring the ban say wearers are easily identified as Muslims and can be the target of anti-Islam anger. Mayors whose communities enforce a ban say public order and rules on secularism are being protected. The subject is a sore one on the Riviera, where a cargo truck driven by a Tunisian resident of France was deliberately driven into crowds in the city of Nice, yards from the Mediterranean coast, in July. More than 300 people were injured and 86 killed.

The Council of State, France’s highest administrative court, will consider a request Thursday by the French Human Rights League to abolish the burqini bans.

The controversy accelerated after police in the city of Cannes were photographed evidently enforcing the ban. Some women, not in burqinis but otherwise fully clothed, received fines.

One, identified as Siam, 34, of Toulouse, said she wore leggings, a jacket and a headscarf when she was fined $12, telling the BBC, “The policeman told me I had to wear correct clothing and wear the hijab as a headband. But I left the beach and kept my hijab on. I felt like a stranger in my own country. Some people came to comfort me but others insulted me.”

The debate has split French society. In a survey by Ifop, 64 percent of French respondents favor the ban, the BBC reported.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Thursday he favored the ban, referring to the burqini as an example of the “enslavement of women.” Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said she disapproved of the burqini on feminist principles but added she disagreed with the thought that clothing worn at the beach could be linked to terrorism. Anouar Kbibech of the French Council of the Muslim Faith cited the “growing fear of stigmatization of Muslims in France.”

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