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364. Burkini Ban: Secularism? Or Islamophobia?

Jang, Min-young 기자2016.11.07 13:05:33

Since last August, France has been under a dispute over the ban on burkinis. The burkini is a mix of bikini and burqa. The burqa is a garment covering the whole body and is worn by Muslim women. The argument on this swimwear has spread to bigger issues such as violation of human rights, religious discrimination, and France’s homeland security. 


Why Ban the Burkini?

David Lisnard, the mayor of Cannes, France, announced the burkini ban on August 12, 2016. Along with Lisnard, about 30 other mayors of France joined the ban. The ban was largely prompted by the fear of Islamic extremism and the heightened tension in France, after an Islamic terrorist drove a lorry into a crowd in July, killing 86 people and injuring hundreds on a beach in Nice, France. Since the attack, France has been under a state of emergency, with increasing agitation toward the Islamic religion.

Along with the increased tension, French secularism has pushed the isolation of the Muslim religion further. The French regime is based on laïcité, which prohibits religious influence in government affairs. Because the French regard public expressions of religious beliefs as inappropriate, there have been previous bans on, for instance, wearing headscarves or conspicuous crucifixes in state schools in 2004, or wearing the face-covering niqab in public places in 2010. This explains the stout approach toward the elimination of religious actions in public areas.

There is another reason why the burkini is offensive to some French: Women’s equality. The burkini is designed so that women do not reveal much flesh when swimming. This satisfies the Muslim standard of modesty, although it seems like discrimination for some French. The Socialist women’s minister, Laurence Rossignol, states that the purpose of the burkini is to “hide women’s bodies in order to better control them.”

Controversies on the Ban

Despite the fact that the French have their own reasons for banning the burkini, numerous protests and lawsuits have been made in an attempt to overturn the ban. The people opposing the ban have presented reasons why it is so controversial.

Last August, a picture taken on a Nice beach went viral, as it showed policemen making a Muslim woman remove some of her clothes. She was immediately ticketed for not wearing “an outfit respecting good morals and secularism.” A witness confirmed that the crowd were applauding and shouting “go home.” This incident indicated that the burkini ban violates the fundamental human right to freely choose what one wants to wear. John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe Director, remarked that the ban is an assault on women’s freedom of religion, expression, and on their right to not be discriminated against.

Furthermore, some insist that the ban is not valid after all. The ban was imposed on the assumption that the burkini is a conspicuous religious garment. On the contrary, according to a burkini designer, about 40 percent of her customers are not Muslims. The designer herself explained that “the burkini swimsuit does not represent anything other than a woman's modest choice in swimwear.” In addition, Olivier Roy, a scholar of Islam, suggested that it is “absurd” to integrate the ideas of Islamic extremism, terror, and women in the burkini, because Islamic extremists would never allow women to swim publicly in the first place. Some suggest that the ban occurred due to France’s Islamophobia, pointing out to the fact that Christian nuns covering their heads have not been a problematic issue. 

Court Overturns the Ban

The French Human Rights League and the Collective against Islamophobia in France filed a lawsuit against the burkini ban in Villeneuve-Loubet, a city near Nice. On September 1, France’s highest administrative court overturned the ban. The court explained that there is no evidence that the swimwear disturbs public order, nor is the burkini a violation of sanity and dignity. The Council of State added that the ban is a “serious and manifestly illegal violation of fundamental freedoms,” and that the concerns on security after recent IS terror incidents across France were not enough to justify the law.

Despite the court ruling, a majority of mayors who have banned the burkini is refusing to lift the ban. In fact, only two mayors lifted their bans after the Villeneuve-Loubet ruling. Strictly speaking, this is not against the law, because the court’s ruling only applies to  the city of Villeneuve-Loubet.


In the world of current affairs, the state’s capacity to execute the best measures to cope with problems is vital.  The burkini ban, however, has been criticized as being an unreasonable and superficial approach to the security concerns regarding terrorism. The ban is also receiving low support due to the fact that it violates human rights. As the dispute continues in France, it is important to consider the influence of legislative action and to negotiate toward a fair conclusion.

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