Top French court overturns controversial burqini ban but seaside mayor threatens to rebel
A top French court on Friday overturned a controversial, temporary ban on Muslim-friendly burkini swimsuits.
The Council of State’s ruling relates specifically to the southeastern town of Villeneuve-Loubet, but the decision is expected to set a legal precedent for the approximately 30 seaside towns that have issued similar bans.
Lawyer Patrice Spinosi, of the Human Rights League, told reporters in Paris that other mayors must adhere to the ruling and women who have been fined for wearing burqinis can challenge the penalties.
However, the mayor of Sisco on the French Mediterranean island of Corsica said he would not lift the ban following the ruling.
“Here the tension is very, very, very strong and I won’t withdraw it, Ange-Pierre Vivoni told BFM-TV.
Vivoni banned the burqini earlier this month after villagers clashed with three Muslim families, The Guardian reported. The newspaper said after four people were injured at a beach in Sisco, riot police were called to stop 200 people marching to a housing complex with a number of residents of North African origin, shouting “this is our home“.
The ban was imposed by the towns across France after a wave of terror attacks have increased religious tensions.
The legal challenge was brought by human rights group who say the bans stigmatise France’s Muslim minority and also encroach on women’s civil liberties. Proponents of the bans argue they help maintain France’s strict secular traditions. They say burqinis are a symbol of Islam’s repression of women.
“By overturning a discriminatory ban that is fueled by and is fueling prejudice and intolerance, today’s decision has drawn an important line in the sand,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe director, in a statement.
He added: “French authorities must now drop the pretence that these measures do anything to protect the rights of women. Rather, invasive and discriminatory measures such as these restrict women’s choices and are an assault on their freedoms of expression, religion and right to non-discrimination.”
Yusra Metwally, from Australia, who is training for a major ocean swimming event, said she recently started wearing the burqini after purchasing one in Malaysia. She said she felt “a lot more comfortable” wearing it.
“To all people, regardless of their cultural, religious or socio-economic background, the beach is a sanctuary, a place to unwind and absorb the sound and sight of waves crashing against the shore. The beach is not a place where armed policemen are welcome to police the clothing choices made by women” Metwally said.
After the temporary bans in France, Metwally decided to form a ladies’ team for an upcoming swimming event in January next year. “I decided to call our team ‘The Burqini babes,’” she said, using an alternative spelling for the garment.
France has been embroiled in a debate over Islamic dress in public places for years. A permanent, national ban on wearing items of a conspicuous religious nature such as headscarves, veils and turbans in schools and government-run workplaces has been in effect since 2004.
It was extended in 2011 to include the outlawing of wearing full-face veils such as the burqa and niqab in public places.
“There could be no better recruiting sergeants for the Islamic State than the mayors who are enforcing the burqini bans on the beaches of the French Riviera. All right-thinking people the world over are outraged by such high-handed conduct,” said Ebrahim Moosa, author of the book Islam and the Modern World.
“Muslims have been victims of terrorism and have valiantly helped to combat terrorism in Europe. This ban is nothing short of a thinly veiled expression of Islamophobia,” said Moosa, an Islamic studies professor at the University of Notre Dame.
Islamophobia has been on the rise in Europe amid an influx of migrants from Islamic nations. A politician from the Netherlands on Friday published a manifesto that calls for the Muslim holy book the Koran to be banned and for mosques and Islamic schools to be closed.
Geert Wilders’ far-right Freedom Party also wants the Netherlands to leave the European Union. The party has been leading opinion polls for months ahead of parliamentary elections next year.