By: Sara Ringenbach ~Arts & Entertainment Editor~
The bathing suit counterpart to the burqa, the burkini, has received considerable pushback as Nice joins the growing list of cities in France that have instituted a ban on the swimwear. In total, 10 regions in France have implemented this ban at public beaches and pools, including Cannes, which cites a €38 ($43) fine for violators.
The burkini is a full-body bathing suit with a hood designed to only expose the wearer’s face, hands and feet, similar to a wetsuit. Created in the early 2000’s by Lebanese-born Australian citizen Aheda Zanetti to observe Islamic modesty dress codes, the burkini is the preferred style of swimwear over mainstream garments for some Muslim women. However, the modern burkini deviates from its traditional burqa inspiration in its array of fashions. Burkini designers offer women the opportunity for personal expression through a kaleidoscope of colors, sequin designs and even animal prints.
Advocates for the ban do not share a high couture, avantgarde vision for the burkini.
“The burkini is not some new line of swimwear, it is the beach version of the burqa and it has the same logic: hide women’s bodies in order to better control them,” women’s rights minister Laurence Rossignol said to newspaper Le Parisien. “It is not just the business of those women who wear it, because it is the symbol of a political project that is hostile to diversity and women’s emancipation.”
Cannes and Nice both specifically mentioned security reasons for imposing the ban in light of France’s recent terrorist attack on Bastille Day.
“Beach attire that ostentatiously displays a religious affiliation, while France and places of worship are the target of terrorist acts, is likely to create risks to public order,” Cannes Mayor David Lisnard said in his ordinance.
Germany has also encountered controversy surrounding the burkini. The German town Neutraubling banned burkinis in public swimming pools earlier in June, citing complaints about possible hygiene issues. Complaints from swim and pool goers also led a public swimming school in Neutraubling to erect a sign reading “Dear swimming pool users, the use of the pool is only allowed in usual swimming costumes (swimsuit, bikini, bathing trunks)” outside its changing rooms.
However, these bans have faced backlash. The Collective Against Islamophobia in France issued a statement detailing its legal motions against Cannes’ recent ban.
“Must we remind (the mayor of Cannes) that about 30 of the victims of the attack in Nice were Muslims?” the statement said. S
hereen El Feki, author of “Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World,” is openly critical of bans on Muslim garb that claim to defend women’s rights.
“I find it ironic that the argument that is often made (is) ‘oh these poor women, we must liberate them.’ That assumption is quite oppressive because you’re assuming that these women have not made a choice, that they’re incapable of making a choice,” El Feki said to CNN.
One wealthy French businessman and political figure, Rachid Nekkaz, has pledged to personally reimburse women for any fines or legal fees they encounter while wearing their Muslim swim attire. Nekkaz began his eleemosynary with France’s 2013 niqab ban, under which he reportedly donated more than $250,000 to women who defied Muslim headwear laws. Though he personally opposes the burkini and niqab, he extends his philanthropic efforts for women’s freedom of dress.
“As soon as I see that France is not respecting fundamental liberties, I always get my cheque book out,” Nekkaz told the Telegraph.