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How the world is reacting to France's burqini bans

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How the world is reacting to France's burqini bans
Who knew a hooded wetsuit could provoke such strong feelings? Photo: AFP
15:46 CEST+02:00
The news that six French mayors had banned the burqini in their cities provoked strong reaction from around the world.

Some foreign politicians took the opportunity to encourage their own country to follow suit in prohibiting the full-body Islamic swim suit, while others condemned the bans as Islamophobic and counter-productive.

French daily L'Express summed up the state of things with the bemused headline: 'Abroad, they don't understand the controversy over wearing a burqini.'

Great Britain

Unlike many of France's European neighbours, the UK has not seriously debated the prospect of banning the burqini; instead, publications have reacted to the ban largely with mockery, with one writer suggesting France was "losing the plot".

The BBC spoke to a range of UK-based Muslim women about the ban, who described it as "ridiculous" and "outrageous", with one of them pointing out that British celebrity chef Nigella Lawson has sported the burqini.

An opinion piece in the left-wing Guardian by Remona Aly mocked the rule, listing 'Five reasons to wear a burqini - and not just to annoy the French'. Aly commented: "Nothing says “losing the plot” to me more than demonizing what is, let’s face it, a wetsuit."

The right-wing daily the Telegraph argued that police, not burqini-wearers, were “the true enemies of freedom” and that the ban suggested women’s choice of clothing was a political statement, in an article titled: French burqini bans are a foolish act of fanaticism.

Italy

In Italy, a ban on the burqini has been ruled out by Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, who told the Corriere della Sera daily that he regarded France's restrictions on Islamic clothing as counter-productive because of the potential backlash it could provoke. He added that he did not think "the French model" had worked.

But that hasn't stopped members of the Italian far-right from coming out in support of the ban. In Lombardy, the burqa and niqab are already forbidden in hospitals and public buildings, and Fabio Rolfi, a member of the regional branch of the right-wing Northern League, has submitted a motion for the swimsuit to be banned in Lombardy's lakes and pools as well, Repubblica reported.

Rolfi referred to the burqini as "a symbol of arrogance and of bullying and violence towards women".

However, Milanese city councilwoman Sumaya Abdel Qader, who wears the hijab, responded to his proposal by suggesting it was time "to stop telling women what they can and can't do".


Photo: AFP

Spain

Barcelona's City Hall has ruled out a ban, adding that women had the right to wear whatever they wanted to at the beach. The Catalonia region is home to Spain's largest population of Muslims, though Barcelona's deputy mayor said the full-body Islamic swimsuit was rarely seen on the local beaches.

"Our main concern is that women can dress and swim as they like, that they have the freedom to do so," deputy mayor Gerardo Pisarello told reporters on Wednesday, arguing that equality had been confused with conformity by those French councils that had imposed such a ban.

"We must respect the voice of women and not treat them as if they were children."

According to Spanish daily El Pais, 30 municipalities in Catalan have over the past five years voted to ban the burqa in public facilities and institutions, but  in 2013 the country’s highest court ruled that they did not have the power to restrict religious freedom. In Vitoria, northern Spain, users of public swimming pools were banned from bathing while clothed in 2014, though this ban did not single out the burqini.

El Pais journalist Berna Gonzalez Harbour criticized the justification of the Villeneuve-Loubet mayor of the ban, saying: “If it’s a hygiene problem, maybe he should consider banning bathing suits, goggles and wetsuits.”

Germany

In Germany, the burqini is generally accepted, but some local pools have prohibited the garment. The Süddeutsche Zeitung described the bans as "the product of Islamophobia as a reaction to the terrorist attacks”, and said the message the ban sent "not to liberate women and defend secularism but rather 'we do not want you here'."

Canada

Quebec, the Francophone region of Canada, has also got involved the burqini debate, with one MP advocating for an outright ban. Nathalie Roy, from the centre-right party Coalition Avenir Québec, called the swimsuit "a religious symbol of fundamentalism" which "denies equality between men and women", according to Radio Canada International. Roy said she did not believe that any woman really wanted to wear the garment.

However, the international relations minister for the province said that Canada and Quebec's charters of rights and freedoms would make it very difficult for a burqini ban to be put in place.  Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée said that in Canada "a woman has the right to dress as she wishes", adding: "We'll leave that debate to the other side of the ocean."

Morocco

In Morocco, Jeune Afrique reported that there was "real tension" between fans and opponents of the burqini on the country's beaches, with both burqinis and bikinis worn by many. One woman interviewed by the newspaper said: "I can't stand seeing them on the beach. They scare me."

But a woman named as Sara, who wears the burqini, said "it saddens me that it is interpreted as a form of religious radicalization and that the image of women is reduced to a simple clothing choice. I'm not hurting anyone."

"This year, the burqini has raised controversy in Morocco. Seeing burqinis arouses curiosity and unease among swimmers," the newspaper wrote. The burqini is banned in some private pools, particularly in hotels and water parks in tourist destinations around Marrakech and Casablanca.

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