A woman wearing a headscarf, a tunic, and leggings was resting on the beach in Nice, France earlier this week. It wasn't long before she was approached by armed police to remove her garments due to France's controversial ban on the burkini in 26 towns across the country. However, after photos of the incident sparked an outrage upon their release, a French court suspended the burkini ban on Friday, Aug. 26, the Associated Press reported.
The decision of whether or not to ban the beach attire has been the subject of an ongoing debate across France. Many French lawmakers have stood by prohibiting the burkini because as Prime Minister Manuel Valls suggested, it "is not compatible with the values of France and the Republic." On the other hand, a lawyer named Patrice Spinosi with the French Human Rights League called the ban a "serious and manifestly illegal infringement of several fundamental freedoms."
France's laws and society have long been deemed secular, though the notion isn't necessarily applied with equal weight to all forms of religious expression. The ban on the burkini was arguably in itself discriminatory — not just on the basis of religion, but the ban was also gendered and racist.
As the inventor of the burkini, Aheda Zanetti wrote for the Guardian, "When I invented the burkini in early 2004, it was to give women freedom, not to take it away." She adds later on, "I think [the French] have misunderstood a garment that is so positive – it symbolizes leisure and happiness and fun and fitness and health and now they are demanding women get off the beach and back into their kitchens?"
Friday's suspension of the ban will be applied in one town for the time being, as a sort of case study. The ban will be suspended in Villeneuve-Loubet, a town in the south of France near Nice, but will likely set a precedent across the country, the Guardian reports. Amnesty International's Europe director said "French authorities must now drop the pretence that these measures do anything to protect the rights of women. These bans do nothing to increase public safety but do a lot to promote public humiliation," according to BBC.
One thing that is especially important to note in the debate on the French burkini ban — just because a given law permits something or normalizes it, does not mean that the law is just, or that people shouldn't speak out against it.