French burkini ban

SUBHEAD: Armed French police force woman to remove clothing on public beach. Have they lost their minds?

By Ben Quinn on 23 August 2016 for the Guardian -

Image above: A ticket given to the woman by police, which said she was not ‘wearing an outfit respecting good morals and secularism’. Police forced her to remove some clothing. From original article.

Authorities in 15 towns have banned burkinis, citing public concern following recent terrorist attacks in France.

Photographs have emerged of armed French police confronting a woman on a beach and making her remove some of her clothing as part of a controversial ban on the burkini.

Authorities in several French towns have implemented bans on the burkini, which covers the body and head, citing concerns about religious clothing in the wake of recent terrorist killings in the country.

The images of police confronting the woman in Nice on Tuesday show at least four police officers standing over a woman who was resting on the shore at the town’s Promenade des Anglais, the scene of last month’s Bastille Day lorry attack.

After they arrive, she appears to remove a blue long-sleeved tunic, although one of the officers appears to take notes or issue an on-the-spot fine.

The photographs emerged as a mother of two also told on Tuesday how she had been fined on the beach in nearby Cannes wearing leggings, a tunic and a headscarf.

Her ticket, seen by French news agency AFP, read that she was not wearing “an outfit respecting good morals and secularism”.

“I was sitting on a beach with my family,” said the 34-year-old who gave only her first name, Siam. “I was wearing a classic headscarf. I had no intention of swimming.”

A witness to the scene, Mathilde Cousin, confirmed the incident. “The saddest thing was that people were shouting ‘go home’, some were applauding the police,” she said. “Her daughter was crying.”

Last week, Nice became the latest French resort to ban the burkini. Using language similar to the bans imposed earlier at other locations, the city barred clothing that “overtly manifests adherence to a religion at a time when France and places of worship are the target of terrorist attacks”.

The Nice ban refers specifically to the truck attack in the city on 14 July that claimed 86 lives, as well as the murder 12 days later of a Catholic priest near the northern city of Rouen.

The ban by several towns will come before France’s highest administrative court on Thursday following an appeal by the Human Rights League, a French NGO. It is challenging the decision by a lower court in Nice, which upheld a ban on the outfit by the town of Villeneuve-Loubet.

Villeneuve-Loubet, just west of Nice, was among the first of 15 towns to ban the burkini, triggering a fierce debate in France and elsewhere about the wearing of the full-body swimsuit, women’s rights and secularism.

A Corsican mayor has also banned burkinis, amid tensions on the island and violent clashes between villagers and three Muslim families. Skirmishes at a beach in the commune of Sisco earlier this month left four people injured and resulted in riot police being brought in to stop a crowd of 200 Corsicans marching into a housing estate with a high population of people of North African origin, shouting “this is our home”.

A police investigation is under way to determine the cause of the violent brawl, although there has been no confirmation from authorities as to whether anyone on the beach was wearing a burkini at the time.

Nevertheless the local Socialist mayor, Ange-Pierre Vivoni, banned the garments, describing the measure as necessary to “protect the population”.

The Nice tribunal ruled on Monday that the ban in Villeneuve-Loubet was “necessary, appropriate and proportionate” to prevent public disorder after a succession of jihadi attacks in France.

The burkini was “liable to offend the religious convictions or (religious) non-convictions of other users of the beach,” and “be felt as a defiance or a provocation exacerbating tensions felt by” the community, it added.

The ruling by the state council, France’s highest administrative court, will provide a legal precedent for towns to follow around the country.

French divided over burkini ban
SUBHEAD: France's burkini ban row divides government as court mulls legality.

By Angelique Christafis on 25 August 2016 for the Guardian -

France’s prime minister, Manuel Valls, has clashed with his education minister amid growing divisions in the government over the controversial burkini bans on some beaches.

The education minister, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, one of the Socialist government’s leading feminist voices, was highly critical of the growing number of burkini bans, which have provoked debate after women were stopped by police for wearing headscarves and long-sleeved clothing on the beach.

France’s highest court – the state council – began hearing arguments on Thursday from the Human Rights League and an anti-Islamophobia group, which are seeking to reverse a decision by the southern town of Villeneuve-Loubet, near Nice, to ban the full-body swimsuits.

Vallaud-Belkacem, who was born into a Muslim family in rural Morocco before moving to France aged four, told Europe 1 radio the proliferation of burkini bans was not welcome.

She said: “I think it’s a problem because it raises the question of our individual freedoms: how far will we go to check that an outfit is conforming to ‘good manners’?”

She warned that the bans had “let loose” verbal racism. The Socialist party had previously expressed outrage after a 34-year-old French woman was stopped by police on a beach in Cannes for sitting with her children wearing a headscarf and long trousers and was shouted at by a crowd to “go home”.

“My dream of society is a society where women are free and proud of their bodies,” said Vallaud-Belkacem. She warned that with tensions high after a series of terrorist attacks claimed by the Islamic State, “we shouldn’t add oil to the fire” by banning burkinis.

But moments after Vallaud-Belkacem spoke, her comments were flatly contradicted by Valls, who reiterated his support for mayors who have banned the garments. Asked if the decrees amounted to racism, Valls said: “No, that’s a bad interpretation.” He said the full-body swimwear represented “the enslavement of women”.

Valls has said he supports the mayors who have issued local short-term decrees against burkinis, while refusing their demands for nationwide legislation against them.
The state council’s ruling, due shortly, is likely to set a precedent for other towns that have banned the burkini.

The administrative court in Nice ruled on Monday that the Villeneuve-Loubet ban was necessary to prevent public disorder after the Bastille Day attack in Nice and the murder of a priest in Normandy.

 The London mayor, Sadiq Khan, condemned the ban on a visit to Paris on Thursday, his first overseas trip since taking office in May. “I’m quite firm on this. I don’t think anyone should tell women what they can and can’t wear. Full stop. It’s as simple as that.”

Khan’s counterpart in Paris, Anne Hidalgo, hosting London’s first Muslim mayor, called for an end to burkini “hysteria”, saying authorities should instead focus on improving social cohesion.

The former French president Nicolas Sarkozy weighed into the controversy on Wednesday when he called the full-body burkini swimsuit a “provocation” that supported radicalised Islam. He told a TV interviewer: “We don’t imprison women behind fabric.”

This was followed by a rebuke from the woman who created the burkini, the Australian designer Aheda Zanetti, who said Sarkozy had misunderstood what the swimwear represented.

“He needs to go to the beach and maybe ask, what is a burkini swimsuit?” Zanetti said. “Burkini is just a word that describes a full-cover swimsuit, and it doesn’t symbolise anything to do with Muslims. It’s about encouraging our kids and children to learn how to swim.”

The political row over burkinis has intensified after a woman in a headscarf was photographed on a beach in Nice removing a long-sleeved top while surrounded by armed police.

The city banned the burkini on its beaches last week, following about 15 seaside areas in south-east France where mayors had done the same.

The series of pictures, taken by a local French news photographer, showed a woman dressed in leggings, a long-sleeved tunic and headscarf being approached by four officers.

As the police stand around her, she removes her long-sleeved top, revealing a short-sleeved top underneath. It is unclear whether or not the woman was ordered to do so. In another image, a police officer appears to write out a fine.

The Nice mayor’s office denied that the woman had been forced to remove clothing, telling Agence France-Presse that she was showing police the swimsuit she was wearing under her tunic.

Nice’s deputy mayor, Christian Estrosi, from Sarkozy’s Les R├ępublicains party, said a municipal police team had “acted perfectly to make sure that [the] decree was respected”. He threatened legal action against anyone disseminating pictures of municipal police. Twenty-four women have been stopped by police in the city since the burkini ban came into force.

The woman in Cannes, a former flight attendant from Toulouse who gave her name only as Siam, said she was wearing clothes and a headscarf when she was approached by police who wrote on her ticket that her clothes did not conform with “good manners” or French secularism.

“I wasn’t in a burkini, I wasn’t in a burqa, I wasn’t naked, so I considered my clothing was appropriate,” she said.

The various mayoral decrees do not explicitly use the word burkini; instead they ban “beachwear which ostentatiously displays religious affiliation”, citing reasons such as the need to protect public order, hygiene or French laws on secularism.

The state council’s ruling, due at 3pm (1pm GMT) on Friday, is likely to set a precedent for other towns that have introduced bans.

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