Mayors defying burkini ruling
Many French cities still enforce bans
PARIS — Mayors along the French Riviera are defying a court order to lift the ban on full-body bathing suits known as burkinis.
In a test case last week France’s State Council ruled that outlawing the swimming apparel was a “serious and manifestly illegal violation of fundamental freedoms.”
Though it covered only the resort of VilleneuveLoubet, the ruling set what was expected to become a legal precedent for the roughly 30 coastal resorts that introduced the bans this summer.
Instead, the judgment sparked defiance.
On Monday, most of the bans were still being enforced along the Cote d’Azur including in Nice and Cannes.
The bans, issued by mayors as short-term decrees, have provoked a heated political debate in France.
Those in favor of the ban cite France’s militant secularism and decry the burkini as a symbol of political Islam and women’s oppression.
Opponents say officials have no place deciding what people should or should not wear and the ban is discriminatory and deliberately targets Muslims following a string of terrorist attacks since November.
Gil Bernardi, the mayor of the Mediterranean seaside resort of Le Lavandou and one of the first to French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve met Monday with Muslim leaders, professionals and some lawmakers. introduce a ban on clothing “not consistent with secularism and hygiene,” vowed the ban would stay.
“In Le Lavandou there are no burkinis on the beaches and we’re making sure of it. The beach is a place to relax, not a place of ideological or religious confrontation,” Bernardi said. “A large black outfit has no place on the beach or in the water. It could be interpreted as a provocation.”
France’s Socialist government is divided on the issue.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the State Council’s decision was “not the end of the debate in our society about the burkini,” but Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has rebuffed calls for legislation against it.
“A law would be not only unconstitutional and inefficient, it would risk increasing antagonism and irreparable tensions,” Cazeneuve told the Catholic newspaper La Croix. Only dialogue, the minister added, would combat the “dangerous strategy of division” that threatens to split France.
He spoke after a daylong conference with Muslim leaders, professionals and some lawmakers to try to mount a project meant to bind Muslims to the nation, a task given new urgency after deep divisions surfaced over the burkini bans.
Two leading candidates in the opposition center right Les Republicains party primaries — former President Nicolas Sarkozy, and Bordeaux Mayor Alain Juppe — have declared their support for a nationwide ban on burkinis and Muslim head scarves in universities and private companies.
Veils and head scarves are already banned in schools and public spaces.
Sarkozy, who has been accused of pandering to the far right to boost his popularity, told RTL radio Monday: “Is it for society to adapt to the law ... or the law to adapt to society?” and added the burkini issue was “a provocation by an Islam that is political, extreme and is testing the limits of the republic.”
Muslim groups have launched legal challenges to the bans in several French Riviera resorts.
Also on Monday, French police opened an inquiry after a video showing a restaurateur apparently refusing to serve two Muslim women wearing hijabs sparked outrage after it was shared on social media.
The man, who has not been named, is heard telling the women, “Terrorists are Muslims and all Muslims are terrorists. I don’t want people like you in my place, end of story. At least that’s clear,” he is heard saying.
Family and women’s rights Minister Laurence Rossignol in a tweet described the restaurateur’s behavior as “intolerable.”