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After headscarf, burkini sets off controversy in France

Interior minister deems Grenoble city’s decision to allow women to wear burkinis in municipal swimming pools unacceptable

Shweta Desai   | 18.05.2022
After headscarf, burkini sets off controversy in France

PARIS

Grenoble city’s decision to allow women to wear the head-to-toe swimming costume burkini in municipal swimming pools has set off a heated controversy in France, with the government deeming the authorization “provocative.”

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin Tuesday objected to the authorization of burkinis – worn by some Muslim women – as "unacceptable community provocation."

"I have instructed the prefect to refer to the deliberation allowing the wearing of the 'Burkini' to 'secularism' and, if necessary, to request its withdrawal," he posted on Twitter.

As per provisions of the 2021 law called "confirming respect for the principles of the Republic" adopted to fight radical extremism, public service holders, members of the municipal council, and individuals are required to "ensure compliance with the principles of secularism and neutrality of the public service."

After the Grenoble city council adopted Monday new regulations lifting restrictions on swimwear in public swimming pools, the Isere prefecture where Grenoble is located, raised objections with the Interior Ministry and the administrative court. The new rules allow women to wear head-to-toe covering burkinis and bathe topless if they want.

Grenoble is the second city in France after Renne to allow the wearing of burkini in municipal swimming pools.

The approved regulations that were first proposed by the city’s ecologist mayor Erick Piolle have stirred a political storm, enraging far-right parties and certain public authorities, who accuse the burkini as an “Islamist outfit” and the decision of “succumbing to Islamism.”

Piolle defended abolishing the dress code restrictions as it prevented a section of vulnerable populations like Muslim women and trans people from using the public swimming pools.

He responded to Darmanin on Twitter, urging him “to re-read the 1905 law, rather than twist it.”

The 1905 secularism law promulgating separation of the church and the state is a highly contentious piece of legislation that has been used by politicians to frequently target the minority Muslim population. Display of religious signs like wearing of the Islamic headscarf or hijab has been charged as incompatible with the “secular values of the republic.”

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