Islam on the Beach – The Burkini Ban in France

von Thomas Hochmann

In 1964, a young woman wearing a monokini played table tennis on the Croisette, the famous road along the shore in the city of Cannes. She was sentenced for outraging public decency. Half a century later, the mayor of Cannes just banned on his beaches the burkini, a full-body swimsuit weared by some Muslim women. Some other coastal cities followed, one administrative tribunal confirmed, and a new controversy around the keyword “laïcité” was born. It seems to me that the burkini-ban is a legal error and a political mistake.

In 2010, French parliament passed a law prohibiting “the concealment of the face in public space.” This act was passed to ban the burqa, but it does not provide any support to the ban of the burkini, which leaves the face visible. The European Court of Human Rights found no violation of the Convention, but its decision was entirely based on the adverse effect that the concealment of the face can have on the interaction between individuals. Furthermore, it insisted on the fact that “the ban (was) not expressly based on the religious connotation of the clothing in question but solely on the fact that it conceals the face.” (Id., § 151.) Dealing with the same law, the French Constitutional Council also mentioned this idea of a “minimum requirement of life in society.” It added the necessity of being able to identify individuals, and found that the parliament could consider that the integral veil placed women in a “situation of exclusion and inferiority.” Each of these arguments loses a lot of its relevance when it is applied to a swimsuit that does not cover the face.

Some justifications for the burkini-ban are patently pure pretexts, and do not deserve an analysis. It was for instance suggested that this decision was taken for purposes of hygiene, or because this swimsuit would make harder the intervention of the rescue services in case of drowning ...

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