Last Friday the highest court in France, the Council of State (Conseil d’État), struck down the ban on full-body swimsuits or so-called burkinis which had been imposed by some 30 municipalities in southern France on various pretexts such as morality, public order and security, ruling that it “seriously, and clearly illegally, breached the fundamental freedoms to come and go, the freedom of beliefs and individual freedom”. This followed incidents in which women were arrested and fined for wearing the garment in public, and one woman was surrounded by four armed police on a beach and ordered to remove her headscarf (she was not wearing a “burkini”); in similar incidents, sunbathers in the vicinity shouted “go home” and “we are Catholics here”. The BBC carried two important interviews, one of them on BBC London with a female human rights scholar in Toulouse who debunked some of the myths being peddled by supporters of the ban (e.g. that the women approached by police on beaches had gone there to seek out trouble), and another on Radio 4 at lunchtime in which a spokesman from the Human Rights League accused local politicians of fomenting trouble that had not previously existed and dismissed a ruling from the local administrative court in which wearing the ‘burkini’ was compared to allegiance with terrorism, saying, “if someone can think that without being drunk, we might as well quit any reasonable discussion in a democracy”.
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