French Muslims Targeted by New Swimwear Ban

Less than a year after France thought it had settled a row over Muslim swimwear, a local mayor has stirred controversy by banning the all-body "burkini" swimsuit from a new pool.

Gerard Tardy, mayor of Lorette in central France, says bathers at a new outdoor swimming area featuring two pools and a beach must not wear "burkinis," all-over swimsuits for Muslim women which cover the hair and most of the body, The Local reported.

A town hall decree relating to the pool's opening said: "On the beach monokinis, burkinis, veils that partially or totally conceal the face are banned."

Le maire de #Lorette interdit le port du voile sur la plage du nouveau plan d'eau communal.

— France Bleu Saint-Étienne Loire (@bleustetienne) June 28, 2017

Tardy's move could provoke censure: In August last year, France's highest court the State Council overturned a similar ban in the Mediterranean town of Villeneuve-Loubet, setting a precedent for the rest of the country.

That case came after weeks of debate about bans on the burkini imposed in around 30 municipalities that summer.

At the heart of the issue is a clash between two deeply-held French principles: the right to freedom of expression on the one hand, and France's closely-guarded status as a secular nation on the other.

Former prime minister Manuel Valls said last year that wearing the swimwear was "not compatible with the values of the French Republic." But Amnesty called the bans "discriminatory."

France has upheld a ban on veils that cover the whole face, including the Islamic Burqa and Niqab, since 2011. This year, the pan-EU center-right European People's Party called for such bans across the continent.

But critics argue that a top-down restriction on dress is unlikely to be effective in promoting integration. Agnès de Féo, a sociologist and filmmaker who has studied the impact of the face veil ban in France, said in 2015 that the country had "created a monster" for the prohibition that was seen by Muslims as "a law against Islam."