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Burkini wearers are being forced to disrobe on French beaches

Despite efforts to ban the modest bathing suit, sales of the burkini have skyrocketed and Amazon France now has 146 different listings for the head-covering swimsuit.
Justin Ling
Montreal, CA
A Muslim woman wears a burkini in Marseille, France. Reuters/Stringer

Images of French police forcing beach-goers wearing burkinis to disrobe or face a fine has spurred backlash within France and around the world. France is embroiled in a controversy over the modest bathing suit, often worn by Muslim women.

The burkini, a full-body swimsuit which includes a piece to cover a woman's hair, is technically legal under France's veil laws, passed in 2010, which forbid any veil that covers the face.


But this summer, the modest dress was forbidden by several municipalities in the South of France, including vacations spots Villeneuve-Loubet, Cannes, and most notably Nice, where a judge invoked the July 14 terrorist truck attack, which killed 86, in upholding the ban.

Armed French police on 'burkini beach patrol' — Keith Walker (@KeithWalkerNews)August 23, 2016

The tribunal that upheld the ban concluded that: "In the context of the state of emergency and the recent Islamist attacks that took place, notably in Nice a month ago, the wearing of a distinctive dress, other than the normal bathing suit, could be effectively interpreted, in this context, as not just a simple sign of religiosity."

That decision is being appealed to France's top administrative panel by the Human Rights League and the Collective Against Islamophobia in France.

"Today, it's the beaches. Tomorrow, it will be the streets," said the human rights group's lawyer, according to 20 Minutes.

But the heavy-handed ban has been good for the burkini business. Aheda Zanetti, the Australian creator of the burkini, says it's led to a 200 percent rise in sales. A check of Amazon France showed more than 100 different listings for burkinis.

Women on Twitter said that they had bought the bathing suit in protest.

Ive just bought this burkini for my next trip to France. Let's see if they ask me to take it off! — Victoria Cepel (@VeeCee30)August 24, 2016


Zanetti has joined the protest herself, proclaiming: "I created the burkini to give women freedom, not to take it away," in an article for the Guardian, blasting France's crackdown on the bathing suit.

"This has given women freedom, and they want to take that freedom away?" Zanetti wrote. "So who is better, the Taliban or French politicians? They are as bad as each other."

The ban has sparked a vigorous debate in the country's newspapers, especially as images of French police enforcing the orders on the South's beaches went viral.

French ban on the burkini is threatening to turn into a farce — Daily Mail Online (@MailOnline)August 23, 2016

David Thomson, an author and journalist who focuses on extremism and France, told Franceinfo: "Without exaggeration, we can assume that these cliches from Nice will fuel years of jihadist propaganda."

On the other side, mayor and Senator François Baroin, who also serves as the head the Association of French Mayors, described the bathing suit as a "an element of terror which can create trouble in public order" on radio station Europe 1 on Wednesday morning and saluted those who introduced the bans.

But since police began enforcing the order in recent weeks, Rachid Nekkaz, a French native of Algerian descent, has begun ponying up the cash to all women slapped with the €38 ($43 USD) fine.

"I don't think people have the democratic right to stop someone else from wearing the dress of their choice, so long as the clothing doesn't represent a danger for the liberty of others, or for national security," Nekkaz told a local newspaper earlier this month.

France's burkini debate has spread to French-speaking Canada as well. In the province of Quebec, which has previously taken cues from France's version of laïcité — state-imposed religious neutrality — a debate over the burkini was shut down almost immediately after it began. "A woman has the right to wear what she wants," the province's justice minister told reporters after facing calls to ban the swimming suit.

Follow Justin Ling on Twitter: @Justin_Ling