French secularists are fighting back against Muslim activists by stripping naked to protest efforts to allow the burkini at swimming pools and beaches.
By Ian Miles Cheong
In the public baths of Grenoble, hundreds of nudists are threatening to strip down to their birthday suits against burkini-bathers who have challenged the cultural sons and daughters of France to hide their “immodesty”.
Concerned French citizens see it as an effort by fundamentalist Muslims to further segregate the already “multicultural” society.
Amidst a sweltering heatwave that’s brought temperatures up to 40 degrees Celsius (104°F), French citizens are stripping down in swimming pools to avoid heat stroke. The city advises women to wear one-piece bathing suits and for men to wear Speedos at the minimum.
The restriction is a controversial issue among France’s growing Muslim population, which calls it an infringement of their religious and cultural traditions due to their limited access to public swimming pools.
The issue of the burkini—the aquatic cousin of the burka—has been simmering in France over the past decade. French cities and municipalities, including Cannes and Nice, previously banned the maillot oceanique on the grounds that it represents Islamism.
A group of Muslim women activists who call themselves the Citizens’ Alliance of Grenoble are now pushing back against Grenoble’s efforts to remain culturally French—as well as the public health advisory—by decking out in halal swimsuits.
Obscuring everything but their faces, the women have taken to the public baths. The group’s indignation against Western values prompted 15 of them to enter the pool on May 17 in full burkinis. They claim to be motivated by a public petition signed by 630 people, who demanded the rules prohibiting burkinis be revoked.
Despite being hit by €35 fines per offense, the activists are doubling down. They are planning even more excursions to public swimming pools in a watered-down version of the American civil rights movement.
They’ve dubbed themselves the “Muslim Rosa Parks” of France, famously referencing the civil rights icon who, in 1955, refused to give up her seat in the front of the bus to white passengers in violation of Jim Crow segregation laws.
In their case, the burkini-wearers believe that they’re taking a stand for their Islamic traditions.
Similar, but opposite acts of civil disobedience are currently being performed across the Muslim world in places like Iran, where women are arrested, beaten, and jailed for tearing off their headscarves in defiance of Iran’s strict implementation of Sharia.
Two activists—a mother-and-daughter pair—remain imprisoned under the country’s compulsory hijab law. Sheikha Latifa, an Emirates princess, was similarly hunted down and “disappeared” by UAE security forces for trying to exercise her personal freedoms abroad.
Secular French residents, not to be upstaged by the so-called “Citizens Alliance of Grenoble”, launched a rival action against their Muslim counterparts by calling on members of the “Everyone Naked” Facebook group to turn up naked.
The group accused the city’s mayor of “worrying inaction” against the religious activists.
According to the Telegraph, 231 people have confirmed their plans to attend in a large-scale protest, with over a thousand more possibly showing up. Lifeguards unable to cope with the culture clash declared two pools off limits to everyone, despite the intense heatwave.
Citizens’ Alliance leader Adrien Roux condemned Grenoble’s mayor for remaining silent on the issue.
“(The mayor) hasn’t uttered a word on the fact that due to their religious beliefs, hundreds of Muslim women can’t go swimming,” he said in an interview with La Figaro, via the Telegraph. Republican principles should protect their freedom of conscience: a public service must be open to all.”
“Some think these are Islamists who want to wreak havoc in France. They are just asking for the rules to take into account diversity,” Roux added.
Amine El-Khatmi, the president of the secular group Republican Spring, disagrees. She dismissed claims that the women were anything but activists.
“These are not poor Muslim mums wilting in the heat but political militants at work,” she said. “Next time, it will be: ‘We want to book the whole pool because we can’t bathe with others’.”
Grenoble officials say that they’re working towards a “positive solution” but reiterated the ban on burkinis. For now, it looks like secular French citizens will have their way.