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The “Burkini” Debate in France | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Protesters demonstrate against France’s ban of the burkini, outside the French Embassy in London. REUTERS/Neil Hall

Paris- France’s last summer was different after it witnessed many hot political and social incidents. Following the Nice attack, celebrations of the National Day turned into a disaster. Again, the term of “Islamic terrorism” and differences between this religion and the West’s freedom and democracy made headlines.

Amid these new circumstances, a new trend emerged in France: the “Burkini”, which is a light swimming outfit for women. Critics rushed to describe it as “the Islamic swimwear” because it covers the whole body except for the face.

From Australia to France
In fact, the Burkini is not a French-based idea; a Lebanese migrant in Australia created it 12 years ago, seeking to provide Muslim women with a suitable outfit that allows them to swim and to commit to their Islamic culture and restrictions at the same time.

Burkini appeared in France for the first time in 2009; yet, debates concerning this outfit started in 2011, ascended in Germany and Belgium in 2014-2015, and reached its peak in France last year; it made headlines for months and become a top priority in the French community.

Burkini-wearing women didn’t invade the French beaches or kick out the beautiful French women wearing bikinis. Yet, this new swimwear provoked a violent reaction because it appeared in a wrong timing. The French right-wing considered it an Islamic invasion that came to complete the efforts of veil; others saw it a rejection for the French style and values along with many people considering it a humiliation for women who have to hide their bodies while men wander half naked on beaches.

Municipal decisions
To confront this bizarre phenomenon, many administrative decisions came to ban any religious outfit on beaches. Some municipalities said the ban aims at securing the hygiene or maintaining security in the French environment, which has been prone to terrorist attacks. Objections widened and many politicians like former President Nicolas Sarkozy interfered to support the municipal decisions.

These decisions turned into actions and municipal police began demanding from women who wear Burkinis to remove their outfits or leave the beach. In a controversial incident, four security members surrounded a woman wearing Burkini like she was a criminal or a terrorist; this incident provoked many people in the country and around the world, prompting a French court to suspend the Burkini ban.

I is worth noting that the Burkuni issue grew for two reasons: terrorism and the upcoming French elections, which compelled many politicians to use this polemic subject as an electoral promotion to support their campaigns and secure more public support.