The French Council of State, which acts as the country’s supreme court of appeal for administrative law courts, is expected to decide within the next 48 hours whether or not bans on “burqinis” violate human rights. French cities such as Cannes, Villeneuve-Loubet and Nice have all enacted bans on the conservative swimwear, and several women have already reportedly been fined for wearing them. After images that showed police armed with handguns and pepper spray forcing a woman on the beach in Nice to remove her burqini went viral, public figures across the globe have weighed in on whether the ban constitutes a defense of secularism, an attack on Muslim women, or serves as yet another example of men wanting to tell women what to wear.
In an interview scheduled to be published on Friday in Le Figaro Magazine, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy defended the bans. “Wearing a burkini is a political act, it’s militant, a provocation,” said Sarkozy. “If we don’t put an end to this, there is a risk that in 10 years young Muslim girls who do not wear the veil or burkini will be stigmatized and peer-pressured.” The conservative politician also announced this week that he would run for the presidency in next spring’s election, and that he intended to ban every religious sign in French universities if he won.
In England, London mayor Sadiq Khan argued that the bans are discriminatory. “I’m quite firm on this,” said Khan. “I don’t think anyone should tell women what they can and can’t wear. Full stop. It’s as simple as that … I’m not saying we’re perfect yet, but one of the joys of London is that we don’t simply tolerate difference — we respect it, we embrace it, and we celebrate it.” Famed author J.K. Rowling also chimed in over Twitter, taking objection to the ban itself and to Sarkozy’s characterization of the burqini as a “provocation.”
“Whether women cover or uncover their bodies,” tweeted Rowling, “seems we’re always, always ‘asking for it.'”
Meanwhile, Aheda Zanetti, the Lebanese woman famous for pioneering the burqini in Australia, has said that the swimwear was intended to give women more freedom, not less, and that 40 percent of burqini sales have been made to non-Muslim women. “The Jewish community embraces it,” said Zanetti. “I’ve seen Mormons wearing it. A Buddhist nun purchased it for all of her friends. I’ve seen women who have issues with skin cancer or body image, moms, women who are not comfortable exposing their skin — they’re all wearing it.”