Photo: Benjamin Cremel/AFP
The mayor of Cannes made international headlines last week after banning women from wearing burqinis on his town's beaches.
Just days later, Corsica saw unrest when families with a north African origin clashed with other locals after tourists photographed a woman wearing a burqini at the beach.
The town's mayor also banned the burqini.
By Tuesday, the mayor of yet another town – Le Touquet in the north – announced that he also planned to ban the burqini, saying it was a way of fighting against “radical discourses and therefore terrorism”.
While these mayors say they are trying to keep the peace, sociologists have reacted to the bans with disbelief, arguing that the changes will only segregate France even more.
French sociologist and Islam expert Raphael Liogier said that such political involvement was adding to what he called “the theatre of war”.
“I'm really shocked, but not because women are wearing burqinis. I'm shocked because people feel they have to react to it. Women have the freedom to wear a burqini if they want to,” he told The Local.
He said that banning the swimwear was the wrong response, especially in Corsica where he said authorities should have focused on jailing those responsible for the violence.
“Put it like this: If a woman wears a very short skirt and then gets raped, no one would ever try to ban short skirts. They would punish the rapists. That's how a free country with civilized people works. But we are doing the opposite here,” he said.
He said French officials were “reversing the concept of a free society” by trying to prevent violence by forbidding clothes.
Banning the burqini, he argued, was actually unconstitutional.
“The government confuses things like burqinis with being a sign of war, or a first step towards terrorism. But France is supposed to have been free since 1789. It's a total overreaction, it is sociologically unjustified and it's making France's legal system more fragile,” he said.
“This is exactly what Isis wants, they want Muslims to feel that western societies are against them, that they can't be free in western society.”
Author of the book “War of Civilisations Will Not Take Place“, Liogier has been accused by some of being anti-patriotic for his stance. He believes by constantly talking of war and of Islam, France is “doing the best marketing for Isis free of charge”.
Other experts worry that a burqini ban will increase the divide further between France's non-Muslims and its Muslim community, which is estimated to number around 500,000.
Agnès De Féo, a sociologist and filmmaker who for ten years has explored the topic of Islam in France, says the government's interaction “makes the French public hysterical”.
“This can only escalate, it's absolutely crazy,” she told The Local.
“A ban like this will certainly lead to some of the women becoming radicalized themselves. That's what we saw after the burqa ban in 2010. Women started to wear the burqa after the law was passed, and then some went to Syria and turned to violence.
“You can follow the whole evolution of it. They become fed up with all the noise in the French news, the obsession with Islam in the French media.”
She added that the French public, as a result, often end up thinking that Muslims are all dangerous and say that they don't want them in the country.
“But the problem, and we saw this in Corsica, is that these women wearing the burqinis are actually French. They were born here. Then they're left feeling like outsiders because they're reminded that they're not really French,” she said.
“Some of the terrorists, even the men, felt targeted by it. They're left asking one another 'Have you seen how France treats Muslims?'”
“The government doesn't understand that this law will have long term consequences, just as the burqa ban has had.”