Top French court: Burkini ban wrong

Back­ers vow to still bar swimwear in name of se­cu­rity

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Kim Will­sher and Laura King

PARIS — It’s about much, much more than swimwear.

The high­est ad­min­is­tra­tive court in France on Fri­day sus­pended a Mediter­ranean beach re­sort’s ban on full-body bathing suits — of­ten called burki­nis — in a closely watched rul­ing likely to set a le­gal prece­dent across the coun­try.

The court de­clared that ban­ning the body-con­ceal­ing bathing ap­parel some­times worn by ob­ser­vant Mus­lim women went against fun­da­men­tal civil lib­er­ties.

More than two dozen French towns have adopted a sim­i­lar pro­hi­bi­tion — a chain re­ac­tion that sprang up in the weeks af­ter a dev­as­tat­ing truck ram­page in the Riviera re­sort city of Nice on July 14, Bastille Day, which left 86 dead and hun­dreds in­jured.

In France, home of Europe’s largest Mus­lim com­mu­nity, the bans have touched a so­cial and cul­tural nerve, trig­ger­ing de­bate turn­ing on na­tional iden­tity, se­cu­rity fears, im­mi­gra­tion, women’s rights and the so­cial role of re­li­gion, among other ques­tions.

Most of the mu­nic­i­pal bans cited the threat to pub­lic or­der as a con­cern; the court ruled that the ex­is­tence of such a threat had not been es­tab­lished — and that in its ab­sence, the pro­hi­bi­tion could not be legally jus­ti­fied.

Fri­day’s rul­ing was lim­ited in scope, af­fect­ing only the ban in the Mediter­ranean town of Vil­leneu­veLou­bet — an open­ing salvo in what is likely to be a drawn-out le­gal and po­lit­i­cal fight.

But de­spite the court vic­tory, the de­bate was un­likely to go away.

Prime Min­is­ter Manuel Valls, who sup­ported the bans, called the de­bate “fun­da­men­tal” for sec­u­lar France, where re­li­gious dis­plays are un­wel­come in the pub­lic space. “Stand up to Racism” protests Fri­day out­side the French Em­bassy in Lon­don. France’s high­est ad­min­is­tra­tive court sus­pended a ban on the burkini by a French Riviera town.

Valls wrote on his Face­book page that de­nounc­ing the burkini “in no way puts into ques­tion in­di­vid­ual free­dom” and is re­ally about de­nounc­ing “fa­tal, ret­ro­grade Is­lamism.” The burkini, he wrote, “is the af­fir­ma­tion of po­lit­i­cal Is­lam in the pub­lic space.”

The mayor of Vil­leneu­veLou­bet, Lion­nel Luca, de­nounced the rul­ing, say­ing it would in­flame pas­sions rather than calm them.

But op­po­nents of the swimwear re­stric­tions hailed the de­ci­sion.

Ab­dal­lah Zekri, pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Ob- ser­va­tory against Is­lama­pho­bia, called it a “vic­tory for the law and for wis­dom.”

Stephane Du­jar­ric, a spokesman for U.N. Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Ban Ki-moon, wel­comed the rul­ing as a sign of “re­spect for per­sonal dig­nity.”

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said he was re­luc­tant to “sec­ond-guess” an ally’s in­ter­nal de­bate about se­cu­rity.

Still, Earnest said the U.S. was founded as a coun­try where peo­ple “could ob­serve their re­li­gious faith, and wor­ship God with­out the fear of per­se­cu­tion or even in­tru­sion by govern­ment au­thor­i­ties.”

He said Pres­i­dent Barack Obama “be­lieves strongly in the free­dom of re­li­gion” and be­lieves pro­tect­ing that free­dom strength­ens na­tional se­cu­rity.

This week, pho­tos of a woman in a head­scarf and long tu­nic on a Riviera beach, sur­rounded by armed po­lice and ap­par­ently be­ing or­dered to shed a long-sleeved cov­er­ing, touched off an on­line firestorm.

Po­lice of­fi­cials de­nied their of­fi­cers had asked her to re­move any cloth­ing, but

JUSTIN TAL­LIS/GETTY-AFP

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