France, the Burkini and a 'Battle Of Cultures'

تم نشره في Thu 25 August / Aug 2016. 12:00 AM
  • Woman in France forced to taking off her Burkini in public on Beach by security personnel

PARIS — Photographs of armed police ordering a Muslim woman on a beach in the Mediterranean city of Nice to partially derobe went viral on social media this week, upsetting many French Muslims and causing global consternation.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls defended a ban on burkinis in more than a dozen coastal towns on Thursday, saying France was locked in a "battle of cultures" and that the full-body swimsuit symbolized the enslavement of women.

In a sign of rifts opening in the socialist government before a presidential election in 2017, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, France's Moroccan-born education minister, cautioned the debate was fanning racist rhetoric and being used for political gains.

Reiterating his stance on the issue, he said: "For me the burkini is a symbol of the enslavement of women."

France's Conseil d'Etat, its highest administrative court, was due on Thursday to hear a request by a human rights group for the burkini ban in the Mediterranean town of Villeneuve-Loubet to be overturned.

The debate over the burkini ban encapsulates the difficulties secular France faces as it grapples with a response to home-grown jihadists and foreign militants following Islamist attacks on Nice and a Normandy church in July, with security and immigration now central to the presidential election campaign.

Former head of state Nicolas Sarkozy, who joined the presidential race on Monday, told the Figaro magazine that France under President Francois Hollande had become too timid.

France is not the only country where restrictions on burqas and niqabs are back in the spotlight, and debate on assimilation is raging, after a wave of militant strikes in Western Europe and an immigration crisis that has forced a rethink of Europe's open border policy.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives want a partial ban on the niqab, or face veil, while in Austria right-wing politicians have called for a ban on the burqa, which covers the face and body. In Switzerland there are calls for a popular vote on a ban on the burqa.

On a visit to Paris on Thursday, London's Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan, condemned the ban, saying no one should tell women what to wear.

"I don't think it's right," Khan told the Evening Standard newspaper. "One of the joys of London is that we don't simply tolerate difference, we respect it, we embrace it."