CANNES, France – The French resort of Cannes has banned full-body, head-covering swimsuits from its beaches, citing security reasons – a measure some have criticised as a discriminatory anti-Muslim move that worsens religious tensions.
The ban on so-called burkinis, at the height of the French Riviera’s holiday season, comes as France remains on edge after recent Islamic extremist attacks on nearby Nice and on a Catholic church in north-west France.
Cannes mayor David Lisnard issued an ordinance in late July forbidding beachwear that doesn’t respect “good morals and secularism”. It said swimwear “manifesting religious affiliation in an ostentatious way, while France and its religious sites are currently the target of terrorist attacks, could create risks of trouble to public order”.
A City Hall official said the measure, in effect until the end of August, could apply to burkini-style swimsuits. Violators risk a 38 euro fine.
The mayor calls the burkini “the uniform of extremist Islamism, not of the Muslim religion”. In an interview in Nice-Matin newspaper, he said the measure could also apply to saris worn by Indian bathers, because the clothing could hamper rescuers’ efforts to save them in an emergency.
The Cannes beach ban is the latest of many French measures seen as singling out Islam, the country’s number two religion, in the name of official secularism.
Last week, the mayor of a town near Marseille banned a swimming day for women at a local park, citing a risk to public order because swimmers were required to cover up from chest to knee. The association Smile 13 organised the event for women, girls and boys, asking swimmers to respect the Islamic notion of “awra”, a reference to parts of the body to be hidden.
French law forbids face-covering veils anywhere in public, and headscarves in public schools. Proponents say the laws preserve secular values and protect women from religious oppressio, but critics say they have deepened the religious divide, and Islamic State extremists say the laws are justification for attacking France.