France Islam: Valls slams New York Times report on burkini ban

A woman wearing a burkini walks in the water on a beach in Marseille, France on 27 August Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Muslim women in France have insisted on their right to wear the burkini

The French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, has accused the New York Times of painting an "unacceptable" picture of his country with an article about discrimination against Muslim women.

The report was prompted by the debate over controversial bans on Islamic swimsuits in many French Riviera towns.

Mr Valls said such bans were part of a "fight for the freedom of women".

The paper said it stood by the article. Some Muslims say they are being targeted unfairly over burkinis.

An increasing number of court rulings have rejected bans on the full-body swimsuit, including in Nice, where an attack on 14 July killed 84 people during Bastille Day celebrations.

Some of the women quoted by the NYT said the clothing was a chance for them to take part in activities, such as going to the beach, in line with their religious beliefs.

Many also complained of an alleged discrimination by non-Muslims exacerbated by the recent attacks in France and Belgium, and of restrictions in wearing the headscarf, banned in French public buildings.

One said: "French Muslim women would be justified to request asylum in the United States... given how many persecutions we are subjected to."

Another talked of being "afraid of having to wear a yellow crescent on my clothes one day, like the Star of David for Jews not so long ago".

What is a burkini?

Image copyright Getty Images
  • A burkini is a full-body swimsuit that covers everything except the face, hands and feet
  • The name is a mix of the words "burka" and "bikini"
  • Unlike burkas, burkinis do not cover the face
  • Burkinis are marketed to Muslim women as a way for them to swim in public while adhering to strict modesty edicts
  • The French bans have referred to religious clothing and as they were loosely phrased, came to be understood to include full-length clothing and head coverings worn on the beach - not just burkini swimsuits

Muslim women respond to burkini ban

'A chauvinist order'

In his response, originally posted on the Huffington Post's French website, Mr Valls said the report painted "an unacceptable picture, because it is false, of France".

"What I argue here vigorously is that the New York Times article, giving the floor to women of Muslim faith, claims that their voice would be smothered in France, so as to portray a France that oppresses them," he said.

"We are fighting for the freedom of women who should not have to live under the yoke of a chauvinist order. The female body is neither pure nor impure; it is the female body. It does not need to be hidden to protect against some kind of temptation.

"See the unbelievable reversal: in the cited accounts, the burkini is presented as a tool of women's liberation!"

The New York Times said the story was based on accounts by more than 1,200 readers who had responded to an online call-out asking for the opinions of Muslim women in Europe following the ban.

The French rules say beachwear must be respectful of good public manners and the principle of secularism.

The controversy intensified after pictures and video of police appearing to enforce the ban by making a woman take off an item of clothing prompted anger. However opinion polls suggested a majority of French people supported the bans.

What does French law say on secularism and religious clothing?

  • In 2010, France became the first European country to ban the full-face veil in public
  • A 2004 law forbids the wearing of religious emblems in schools and colleges
  • The 1905 constitution aims to separate Church and state. It enshrines secularism in education but also guarantees the freedom of religion and freedom to exercise it. The original text made no reference to clothing

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