A raging controversy over burkinis – a type of head-to-toe swimsuit favored by conservative Muslim women – has come back to life in France. This week, the southwestern city of Grenoble approved the use of a burkini in public pools, but the French government says it will challenge the decision.
The move revives long-standing tensions about Islamic apparel and the country’s staunch secular values.
In an interview on French radio, the mayor of the Greens, Eric Piol, said it was important that all townspeople could access public services, including pools.
The ruling allows women to swim in burkini, but also topless.
The mayor’s views are not universally accepted. Grenoble city council dissidents say that Piole had no authority to pass the measure. The head of the conservative regional council of the Auvergne-Rhne-Alpes region has suspended subsidies to Grenoble, calling the burkini a sign of women’s subjugation and political Islam.
Now, French Interior Minister Gerald Darminin says he will challenge the Grenoble swimsuit ruling in court, calling it unacceptable provocation. Even the members of Payol’s Left party are divided about it.
This isn’t the first time the burkini has made a splash in staunchly secular France. They were banned on Marseille beaches a few years ago – until a French court overturned the move, deeming it discriminatory.
Burkini restrictions in French public pools are different – they are based on sanitisation grounds that also prohibit men’s long swim trunks.
But Burkinis also fit into a heated debate over France’s 1905 law separating religion and state and a growing fear of political Islam. France has banned headscarves for female French Football Federation players competing in public schools and in matches. The face covering mask has been banned in all public places.
A recent poll by the conservative Sea-News Channel found that while most French oppose burkini in public pools, some swimmers don’t care.
“Everyone should have the freedom to wear what they want,” says Marie, swimming in a public pool in Paris. “As long as it’s not imposed on me, it’s not a problem.”
The same attitude seems to be taking place in the Brittany city of Rennes. A few years ago, local officials quietly changed pool rules, allowing all types of swimsuits, including burkinis. The initial dispute soon subsided. Now, out of the thousands of people who swim in Rennes public pools each year, the local government says, just a handful wear burkini.
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