Burkini ban overruled in France

France's highest administrative court, the Council of State, has suspended the burkini ban, declaring it illegal in a ruling that sets a precedent for the entire country. Around 30 French towns and cities had banned the full-body swimsuit on their beaches. Commentators praise the court's decision.

Open/close all quotes
Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Bans and disapproval are two different things

Political scientist Angelo Panebianco explains in the daily Corriere della Sera why a burkini ban is counterproductive:

“There are customs that should be banned and there are customs that should be allowed and respected. And then there are customs that should be permitted but publicly censored. It seems to me that the latter applies to the burkini. To ban it doesn't make sense in societies that claim to be liberal. So it should not be forbidden. But that doesn't mean it should be approved of. Public disapproval would not be a goal in itself. It would serve to encourage the emancipation of the individual and to ease the social constraints that are placed on the individual. … If Europeans want to avoid the emergence of uncontrollable conflicts in Europe they need to hurry up and learn the art of differentiation.”

Jutarnji list (HR) /

Today's burkini is yesteryear's bikini

The burkini is a symbol of protest, author Miljenko Jergović writes in Jutarnji list:

“No one forced the ladies on the Côte d'Azur to wrap themselves up in their swimsuits and turn up on the most popular beaches among their political and ideological bikini-clad opponents. ... They came with the clear intention of provoking anger and derision. ... The burkini is a fashion issue, albeit with a hefty political dimension. But wasn't that also the case with the bikini from the 1950s through to the 1970s? There is a trivial aspect to the political content, with the latest swimsuit model being taken so seriously. In the same way women who wouldn't normally have worn a bikini simply because they didn't like them donned one back then for protest reasons. They liked the subversive aspect of the bikini. And exactly the same is happening now with the burkinis.”

The Irish Times (IE) /

French want Muslims to be invisible

Secularisation is being taken to the extreme in France, the Irish Times complains:

“Just as it is profoundly mistaken stereotyping to suggest that women who wear short skirts are asking to be raped, so too is it to conflate the desire to be modest on a beach, as they see it, with a provocative expression of sympathy with extremism, let alone with being a card-carrying terrorist. The message being sent to young Muslims from the run-down, no-hope banlieues is not that they are being embraced into French culture and society by such bans, but that France would prefer them not to exist, to be invisible. To go 'home'. The overzealous playing of the laicité card is a signal to them, like it or not, that socialists are at one with the Front National on that issue.”

The Guardian (GB) /

Triumph of democracy and the rule of law

The judgement is entirely correct, The Guardian comments:

“Now the highest court has clearly ruled that neither 'public order' nor 'emotions linked to terrorist acts' can be invoked to legitimise the ban. ... It will hopefully restore common decency and the rule of law, and emphasise that the burkini does not in itself threaten public order. If that had been the case, then France's state of emergency would have meant that, officially, citizens of different backgrounds or faiths could no longer safely sit on a beach together. The ruling isn't the solution to all the issues that have to be dealt with - that’s some way off. But hopefully it will give a troubled nation some breathing space.”

Berliner Zeitung (DE) /

Absurd debate shows France's true problems

The court has made a ruling that was long overdue, the Berliner Zeitung comments approvingly and sees the controversy over the burkini as a sign of a deeper problem in French society:

“[The judges] have pointed out that France's stringently secular state system obliges the country to observe religious neutrality, but not the citizens, who are supposed to be able to live their lives according to their beliefs without any interference. This was a spark of common sense in a context of dreadful emotional darkness. But admittedly no more than that. … This discussion about tolerance for burkinis is not and never has really been about this swimsuit that is accepted with equanimity by the rest of the world. If the debate has taken on absurd proportions now it is because this garment reminds us of what has gone wrong in the country that is home to Europe's largest Islamic community. And that is quite a lot.”

Le Figaro (FR) /

Hatred under the veil

France does indeed need laws curtailing veils in public, the conservative daily Le Figaro believes:

“Under the veil lies hatred of what we are and what we represent in their eyes. The burkini, which didn't even exist not so long ago, is not a modest and harmless piece of cloth but a symbolic piece of combat clothing whose first hostages are women. When will we look reality in the face? It's not up to the mayors to come up with adequate responses to the challenge we confront. The lawmakers must disarm the soldiers of this seditious offensive. As the current law can't do that, a new arsenal must be passed. Hence the need for a new parliamentary majority in 2017.”

The Guardian (GB) /

French politicians no better than the Taliban

The burkini ban in France is robbing not only Muslim women of their freedom, Aheda Zanetti, the Australian inventor of the garment, complains in The Guardian:

“I wanted to do something positive - and anyone can wear this, Christian, Jewish, Hindus. It’s just a garment to suit a modest person, or someone who has skin cancer, or a new mother who doesn't want to wear a bikini, it’s not symbolising Islam. ... I think they have misunderstood a garment that is so positive - it symbolises leisure and happiness and fun and fitness and health and now they are demanding women get off the beach and back into their kitchens? This has given women freedom, and they want to take that freedom away? So who is better, the Taliban or French politicians? They are as bad as each other.”

Libération (FR) /

Ban only enhances burkini's symbolic value

The debate on burqas and burkinis in France is misguided, historian and Green politician Esther Benbesssa writes in Libération:

“The more such articles of clothing are banned and/or stigmatised, the more their symbolic value grows. In this context it's no surprise that France has become the laughing stock of the foreign press. As ridiculous as such fervour is, it also provides food for thought. Because many politicians of all stripes are strongly tempted to use the anger of some and the fears of many to pursue the purely tactical goal of stealing a few votes from the Front National in the next elections, by challenging it for the right to champion the country's secular identity.”

Il Sole 24 Ore (IT) /

France sets the wrong priorities

The burkini ban on French beaches is hypocritical as long as Paris continues to support conservative Islam in Saudi Arabia, writes the business daily Il Sole 24 Ore:

“[Hollande] awarded the [Saudi] prince the highest order of merit, the Legion of Honour, for the outstanding service of saving Areva, the French nuclear energy conglomerate, which was facing bankruptcy. On the one hand France bans the burkini, on the other it supports an absolutist kingdom with a blood-soaked royal family that makes massive use of the death penalty to eliminate its opponents and is the biggest financier of Islam in its most conservative and backward form.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

An attack on religious freedom

The burkini ban is scandalous, Dominik Zdort fumes in the conservative Rzeczpospolita:

“For me this is a further step towards curtailing religious freedom. If Muslim women believe for religious reasons that they should not show their bodies to men they don't know, their view should be respected. After all, Jews aren't banned from wearing their kippahs, nor Catholic priests from wearing their cowls or cassocks. ... But there's an even stronger argument in favour of the Muslim bathing suit: it was not designed in Saudi-Arabia or prescribed by the IS, as some critics believe. It was invented in Australia, and tailored to the needs of Muslim women living there. It is a compromise that allows them to bathe alongside people of other faiths. In this way it helps bring them closer to the Western way of life.”

Adevărul (RO) /

France's debate culture is exemplary

Many French commentators are making an intelligent contribution to the online burkini debate, journalist Cristina Hermeziu comments on blog portal Adevărul:

“In the polemic debate about a burkini ban (which has made France the target of much mockery and criticism in the international press) we also find poise, a sense of decency and political maturity. … I take my hat off to many commentators whose automatic reaction is to differentiate and not allow themselves to be manipulated. One asked: 'Do France's mayors want burkinis to disappear, or Muslim women?' … We must ask ourselves what goal we are pursuing with these public debates. Where does it lead us when situations are simplified to such an extent that any expression of Muslim identity immediately provokes tensions? … I believe the solutions will come from the (very French) debate culture and not from pointing fingers at the enemy. For all its weaknesses and shortcomings the democracy of debate is still preferable to hate tirades and civil war.”

Le Point (FR) /

Let's not be paralysed by futile debates

The current dispute over the burkini ban on French beaches reminds Le Point of the Dreyfus affair at the end of the 19th century, when the entire country was caught up in a debate about the Jewish officer Alfred Dreyfus, who was wrongfully accused of treason:

“This highlights the emotional state of our society, our worries about the future and our inability to look ahead and construct the France of the 21st century. Instead we get all het up about current disputes at the risk of neglecting the things that could allow us to become a great country once more. ... Incidentally, the Dreyfus affair took place in a similar context: France had declined dramatically during the 19th century. ... These crises clearly testify to our malaise. We should expect our statesmen to come up with a concept for the future rather than playing ping-pong with press statements.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

Part of a silent revolution

Those who ban burkinis stand in the way of the Muslim women's avant-garde, sociologist Renzo Guolo writes in La Repubblica:

“Anyone familiar with Islamic culture knows that women have long made a point of sidestepping prohibitions and other forms of male control in society. The spread of the burkini is part of this long and complex process, which is more post-ideological than is commonly assumed. ... This desirable metamorphosis in Islamic culture in Europe is certainly not aided by restrictions, but rather by behaviour and rules that can extract the individual from the claustrophobic social constraints. The signs of this change - which in practice are achieved through the resistance of women in daily life - are already clearly apparent, even if they remain invisible to public opinion and the media, which focus on questions of security. This is a silent revolution that achieves more than any political proclamation.”

NRC Handelsblad (NL) /

Forced to cover and bare themselves

The burkini ban is extremely sexist in the view of NRC Handelsblad:

“Men in Cannes are free to wear whatever they like - from tangas to kaftans. But when a woman wants to go to the beach now she must display a certain amount of nudity, otherwise she is breaking the etiquette. … This measure is a pitiful expression of hardened views after the shock and mourning. And it is sexist. It only affects women and only confirms in a perverse way the subservient status of Muslim women. Already they are subject to the commands of their Muslim brothers. Now them must also bare themselves at the command of the mayor. … This burkini ban testifies to tacit acceptance of anyone being able to choose what women wear, not just the women themselves. … But these women are not small children. It is up to them what they wear.”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

Just as absurd as prohibiting falafels

France is setting the wrong priorities after the terrorist attacks, columnist Aleid Truijens comments in De Volkskrant:

“Those who approve of the burkini ban are using feminism as a cover for Islamophobia. Banning certain garments worn by women is always a bad idea. Beach volleyball in burkinis in Rio: crazy but not against the rules. And I too am allowed to swim in the sea wearing long trousers and a jumper if I want. I understand why the French are so sensitive after the attacks, but it's stupid and pointless to take action against a symbol. We would be better off focussing our energy on punishing men who shout 'whore!' at sunbathing women or harass gays. This is protecting 'our' values. If a burkini is a sign of impending terror, then so is a falafel.”

De Standaard (BE) /

Will Muslim female surfers be banned from surfing?

The Flemish nationalist governing party N-VA also wants to introduce a burkini ban in Belgium. Such demands only further poison social life in Europe, De Standard criticises:

“In the name of freedom and our Western values we dictate what people should wear on beaches, we suspend religious freedom and ban pious Muslims from swimming in public. And then we shrug when Muslims say they feel discriminated and excluded. To say nothing of the fact that rules that no one can abide by are pointless: how do you define an overly concealed body? Do surfers with neoprene suits now risk getting slapped with a fine? Or will female Muslims now be banned from surfing? ... Such a ban testifies to a dismal lack of self-assurance. And such a policy turns all it touches into a threat.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Veil oppresses women

The burkini ban has nothing to do with Islamophobia, Corriere della Sera argues:

“This swimming costume is directly connected to fundamentalism. That's what sets it apart from other religious symbols that are allowed, from the Kippa to the crucifix. It's also a security issue: it's easy to conceal a weapon under a burkini and all it takes is sunglasses to make yourself unrecognizable. So the protests of organisations like the French Human Rights League or the Collectif contre l’islamophobie en France that oppose the burkini ban on the grounds that it is an expression of Islamophobic racism are difficult to understand. Are they really defending a right of women, or is it more that they are defending a duty imposed on women by men? We see the answer in Manbij, the Syrian city recently liberated [from IS rule] where women are expressing their joy by tearing off their niqabs, stamping on them and even burning them.”

La Croix (FR) /

The burkini is a civil right

The burkini is only worn by a minority of Muslim women and banning it contradicts a basic principle of the French republic, the Catholic daily La Croix argues:

“The burkini is one of those articles of clothing that people don like a militant discourse, a sign of protest or a self-affirmation. ... Everyone in France is free to wear what they want provided it doesn't contravene the public order. So the burkini has every right to exist, even if we mustn't be naive: those who wear it often defend a fundamentalist view of society and are well aware that they are exerting pressure on those around them. They are influenced by a certain concept of Islam - which it must be said represents only one current within this religion. Muslim women can also swim in bikinis - and all power to them!”

ABC (ES) /

Symbols of fundamentalist oppression

The conservative daily ABC welcomes the burkini ban:

“The progressive New York Times even ran an ironic and disdainful front page headline this weekend saying that France had turned the burkini into 'the last threat to security'. One can hardly imagine this type of humour being used when other rules that violated women's equality were abolished by Western countries in recent decades. The clout of the far left in the feminist movement explains this glaring contradiction. It is born of a mixture of multiculturalism and anti-imperialism in which even the burkini is accepted as a respectable symbol of opposition to the dominance of the West and its values. That the values of freedom and equality lie between the bikini and the burkini doesn't interest them: on the one hand the freedom of Western women to wear whatever they like and display their bodies just like men do. On the other the oppression of Muslim women from fundamentalist families, forced to conceal their bodies in burkinis.”

Polityka (PL) /

France disgraces itself

The new dress code in Cannes is preposterous, Adam Szostkiewicz writes in the news magazine Polityka:

“Telling people what they can and cannot wear when they swim is simply absurd. ... At the same time you can't help thinking that Monsieur Lisnard [mayor of Cannes] is making a silly joke. In principle the matter bears no further thought. Nevertheless it says a lot about the emotions that are now rife in France. This is less about Islamist extremism. France is currently in a state of fear. That's only understandable after the recent terrorist attacks. Still, the country should try not to make a fool of itself.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) /

A weapon against those of another religion

France has banned the burqa for the past six years but that has achieved nothing, the Süddeutsche Zeitung concludes:

“The first, openly declared goal has not been accomplished: the number of women covered from head to foot on France's streets has not gone down. … The police tend to turn a blind eye. In the poverty-stricken suburbs they prefer to focus on suspects other than the mostly young (according to surveys) women with an above-average level of education who defy the burqa ban. The attempt to stop the spread of Islamic fundamentalism through a symbolic act seems to be hardly any more successful. … The burqa ban was well intended. But it gave rise to expectations that a liberal state can never fulfil. Now a new threat - fuelled by frustration and anger - is looming. The separation of church and state, once a promise of individual freedom, is being used by populists as a weapon against those who hold different beliefs.”

More opinions

Causeur (FR) / 27 August 2016
  Muslim women should wear normal bathing suits to integrate (in French)