French courts have ruled mayors don't have legal right to impose such dress codes
After ruling in Villeneuve-Loubet, other French towns face court challenges over ban
Twenty-two towns in France are maintaining a ban on the burkini despite court rulings that have said mayors have no legal right to dictate what women wear on the beach.
More than 30 towns initially had imposed a ban on the swimwear, which covers the body from head to toe, leaving only the face, hands and feet exposed. French courts have already ruled that mayors in Villeneuve-Loubet and Cannes, among others, had no legal right to impose such dress codes. Bans in other cities also face challenges in court, one by one.
The burkini is worn mostly by Muslim women, and officials say the bans are a response to growing terror concerns after a series of attacks, including one last month in Nice that left 86 dead when a man drove a truck through a crowd celebrating Bastille Day.
National Front’s Le Pen says burkini ‘like a prison’
Here are the towns that have kept the ban:
- La Ciotat
- La Londe les Maures
- Le Lavandou
- Théoule sur Mer
- Vallauris Golfe-Juan
- Cap d'Ail
- Nice (in court)
- Menton (in court)
The bans – and images of armed police forcing a woman to remove part of her burkini on a beach in Nice – have been highly divisive in a country that celebrates secularism and have fueled a debate here and abroad.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said at a rally Monday that bare breasts represented France better than the Islamic headscarf, according to reports, triggering a storm of criticism on social media.
Cannes and the town of Frejus had to suspend their bans after court rulings Tuesday.
Frejus, southwest of Cannes, is a stronghold for the right-wing National Front party, which has long expressed concern over what it calls the Islamization of France and has opposed the burka.
The party’s leader, Marine Le Pen, told CNN’s Hala Gorani in an interview Wednesday that she supported a national law to ban all forms of “ostentatious” religious symbols, including burkinis and headscarves, in public.
The burkini is “like a prison,” Le Pen said, calling it a “fundamentalist uniform.”
“The burkini is actually a symptom, one of the multiple symptoms, of the rise in fundamentalist Islam in France for many years,” she said.
“It’s like people saying, ‘We in the Muslim community’ – and not all think this way – ‘we want to eat differently and we want to live differently, we want to dress differently and we want to apply our own laws.’ ”
“What are they doing wrong?’
Sefen Guez Guez, an attorney for the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, which brought the Frejus case to court, said he had confirmed at least 10 instances where the ban had been enforced – five in Nice and five in Cannes – maintaining that the bans were political rhetoric aimed at winning elections, rather than a security precaution or a way to reduce tensions.
“We are in France, in the country of freedom, the country of liberty of speech. So we have to accept that a woman can (decide) for herself what she can wear,” he told CNN.
Opinion on the beaches of southern France have remained divided.
Delphine Ortise told CNN on the beach in Villeneuve-Loubet, near Nice, that she has noticed a rise in the number of burkinis.
“It’s new in France, and for me it must be forbidden,” she said.
Amar Boujemann, who also was on the beach, said France represented a life of freedom and that the women in burkinis should be left alone.
“What are they doing wrong? They are not harming anyone, there are other things more important in the world than to all the time be thinking about burkinis,” he said.
Another woman said she found it abnormal to see women covered up on the beach, calling it a display of religion “in the radical form.”
“If they weren’t influenced by their husbands, they would be able to express themselves how they want to,” said Brigitte, who would only give her first name.
But Morgan Galawi, a Muslim from Nice, said the bans had made Muslim women feel excluded.
“If I want to go to the beach with my friend, to simply go to the beach to have a picnic or just to spend some time there without swimming, I can’t do that,” she said.
“Because we feel excluded and we have the impression that we aren’t at home. I was born in Nice, and this should not happen. And it’s my choice to wear the headscarf.”
In April 2011, France became the first European country to ban wearing in public the burqa, a full-body covering that includes a mesh over the face, and the niqab, a full-face veil with an opening for the eyes.
And much like the recent burkini bans, opinion in the country is divided between those who see the laws as an infringement on religious freedom, and those who view the Islamic dress as inconsistent with France’s rigorously enforced secularism.
CNN’s Antonia Mortensen reported from Cannes, and journalist Angela Dewan wrote from London. CNN’s Eugenie Lambert, Lindsay Isaac, Sheena McKenzie and Alex Felton contributed to this report.