Which French values: Tolerance or gender equality?

Burkini ban bone of contention: "No woman should be humiliated because of her bathing suit.”

August 28, 2016 05:32
3 minute read.

Burkini controversy rages on

Burkini controversy rages on


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NICE – The burkini ban imposed by the mayors of Nice and Cannes seem to be working, with not a single woman wearing a burkini spotted this morning by Nice beach-goers.

Jean-Claude, who visits the Nice promenade almost every morning all-year-round, says he didn’t see any women dressed in the bathing suit that covers everything except the face, the hands and the feet, or wearing traditional Muslim dress for that matter.

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“Not many of them come to the Miami Beach near the Old Town,” he notes. “We mostly see tourists here; young couples and also families from France and abroad. There are of course French Muslims coming. People who live here peacefully like any other citizen.

And sometimes the women keep their dresses on [in the water], or their head scarfs. But I didn’t really see here women in burkinis, and in any case I wouldn’t mind. People come here from all over the world, and you get all sorts.

So why shouldn’t these women dress as they like?” Florence, a 23-year-old student, feels the same way. “With my girlfriends, we often suntan topless on the beaches of Cagnes-sur-Mer – some 20 kilometers west of Nice. No one bothers us. So I think that these women shouldn’t be bothered either. What happened with the policemen who forced a woman to take off her burkini in front of her children [on the beach at Nice’s Promenade des Anglais on Tuesday] was really awful. No woman should be humiliated because of her bathing suit.”

Some people think differently. “I do not support the burkini ban,” says Isam J., “but I can understand some of the logic behind it.”

He tells The Jerusalem Post that he grew up in a traditional Muslim family, but with the years has come to reject the strict approach to women preached by some Muslim societies in the Arab world.

“We are different here. We are part of France. My family came from Algeria, and I was born here, in this town. These days especially, we have to show everyone that Muslim women are not oppressed, and the burkini is interpreted by many in France as oppression. So I would prefer that there won’t be a ban, but that Muslim women here understand the sensitivity of the burkini these days.”

Indeed, for many French people the burkini has come to represent gender inequality.

“Why should we agree to have this symbol of oppression of our beaches?” says a young woman who ask that her name not be divulged. “These women obey their husbands and the religious clerics who tell them that they should be covered, excluded from society, branded as different, as impure. The values of the French Republic oppose such an approach.”

The public debate that has swept over the country, dominating talk shows on all TV channels last week, cannot be detached from the terrorist attack Nice experienced on Bastille Day, July 14. Talking on the condition of anonymity, French youngsters admit that the burkini ban might not have been imposed if not for the terrible attack, when an Islamist drove a truck into a crowd of celebrants on the Promenade des Anglais, killing 86 people and wounding 307.

“Here on the French Riviera, there are quite a few people who need someone to blame. Islamic State is a far-away entity, while the Muslim community in France is here, among us. And so, many people just don’t want to see anything around them reminding them of Islam. They want to feel safe, and the way to safety, for them, is to distance from the public sphere any sign of religious intolerance,” one youngster says.

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