Tension grew on Wednesday after photographs were flashed on social media of French police officers forcing modestly clad Muslim women on beaches, who were wearing full-body swimsuits known as “burkinis”, to pay fines, leave or disrobe.
The temporary rule that was enacted by a single resort in France has taken a provocative dimension after it spread along the country’s world-famous Riviera and beyond to become a lightning rod for a multitude of divisive issues.
The first city to start the prohibition was Cannes, where mayor David Lisnard said he wanted to prohibit “beachwear ostentatiously showing a religious affiliation while France and places of religious significance are the target of terror attacks” to avoid “trouble to public order”.
After Cannes, no less than 20 municipalities on the Mediterranean, as well as several in northern France, have enacted bans against the garment on the grounds that it is not “appropriate,” “respectful of good morals and of secularism” and “respectful of the rules of hygiene and security of bathers on public beaches.”
Now that the bans, which are vaguely worded, have apparently hit not just women wearing burkinis but others in a wide range of modest clothing, some French organizations and politicians that previously had said little have begun to worry that the new rules are discriminatory and unenforceable.
It was gathered that opinion polls in France suggested that most people back the bans but Muslims warn they are being targeted unfairly.
According to an Ifop survey, 64% of French people are in favour of the bans while another 30% are indifferent, BBC reports.
Quite a number of women have been fined so far for wearing clothing deemed violate the various bans, including in Cannes and Nice.
Some have been arrested, while others have been given verbal or written warnings, and many fined around €40 (£35) each.
Siam, 34, a mother from Toulouse, was fined €11 (£9, $12), although she insists she was not wearing a burkini at the time but leggings, a jacket and a headscarf.
“The policeman told me I had to wear correct clothing and wear the hijab as a headband. But I left the beach and kept my hijab on,” she told the BBC. “I felt like a stranger in my own country. Some people came to comfort me but others insulted me.”