By Sarah Aziza
France’s “burkini ban” was dealt a blow today as the French high court overturned the controversial rule in the Riviera town of Villeneuve-Loubet. The decision came after a groundswell of protest in response to images of French police patrolling beaches in Nice, including several photos in which armed officers are seen standing over Muslim women, appearing to order them to strip their body-concealing layers.
While the decision of the French courts today only applies to one town so far, many expect the precedent to be extended to other cities currently enforcing the ban. Amnesty International’s Europe director, John Dalhuisen, welcomed the ruling “French authorities must now drop the pretence that these measures do anything to protect the rights of women.” So far, the mayor of Corsica has already pledged to uphold the ban regardless of future court rulings, while the French Prime Minister Manuel Valls reiterated his support of the ban, calling burkinis a “symbol of the enslavement of women.”
The “burkini bans” do not actually mention the garment specifically, but rather stipulate that beachwear must be “appropriate,” and “respectful of good morals and of secularism.” Proponents of the ban argue that the burkini is a matter of national security, pointing to the July 14 attacks in Nice that left 86 people dead. The mayor of Cannes has called the burkini “the uniform of extremist Islamism, not of the Muslim religion,” while Nicolas Sarkozy has expressed his support for a nationwide ban on the garment.
Muslim advocates, while welcoming the decision to overturn the ban in Villeneuve-Loubet, expressed their concern that the Islamophobia that prompted the ban will emerge in other forms. Marwan Muhammad, who heads the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, worries that anti-Muslim sentiments will simply be redirected to other forms of religious clothing or halal meals. With this in mind, feminist bloggers and activists worldwide have pledged to remain vigilant in their support of Muslim women in France.