On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department advised American tourists in France to obey the local ban on traditional Muslim swimwear for women known as burkini. The U.S., however, said it doesn’t endorse the ban.
Several resorts on the French Riviera banned Muslim women from swimming in their traditional, full-body bathing suit. Some local authorities argued that the piece of clothing reminds people of radical extremism. Others said that it “conspicuously” promotes the women’s religion.
When a journalist asked U.S. officials what their position on the French ban was, they said that American tourists should comply with the French law.
Elizabeth Trudeau of the State Department said that the U.S. does believe in the freedom of religious expression on its territory including the burkini wear.
Trudeea noted that American travelers should obey the local laws of all countries they visit.
“But on this particular very local ordinance, I would refer you to the French,”
the spokesperson for the State Department said.
The U.S. hasn’t endorsed other similar bans in the past. For instance, it expressed its disapproval on the French ban on wearing Muslim full-face veils or burkas in public.
The mayor of Cannes, who was behind this week’s burkini ban, said that the swimsuits are a “symbol of Islamic extremism.” The French mayor expressed his concerns that the clothing may spark other terrorist attacks in the area.
Women who insist on swimming in burkini in Cannes face a fine of $33. But before fines start pouring, the police will ask offenders to change into another outfit or leave the area. So far, authorities caught no one wearing the swimwear in the area.
Other resorts in southern France issued similar bans. Marseille even had to cancel a burkini-only event because of the controversy. The Cannes law states that any swimmer or beachgoer dressed in “improper clothes that are not respectful of good morals and secularism” now risks fines.
French authorities explained that burkini wearers can disrupt the public order especially now when Islamic terrorists are targeting France.
French media’s Reactions
Nevertheless, many French news outlets contested the legality of the ban. Currently no French rule bans full-body swimwear from public space, but France laws do ban covering the face in public for obvious reasons. Those latter rules enabled the country to ban burqas on French territory in 2010.
Furthermore, some critics believe that Cannes mayor’s argument based on public order concerns doesn’t hold water. One blog said that the person’s freedom to be dressed as he or she pleases is infringed in a disproportionate manner to the risk.
Cannes mayor’s political opponents blasted him in the media because he sends a “radical message” to his voters.
The League of Human Rights (LDH) announced that it would bring the ban in court. LDH head Herve Lavisse called for local politicians to “calm their discriminatory ardour” and do whatever necessary to defend France’s democratic principles.
The Collective Against Islamophobia in France also said that it would challenge the new rules in court. The group described the prohibition as “unconstitutional” and “discriminatory.”