Nice, France: Nice has become the latest French seaside resort to ban the burkini, the body-concealing Islamic swimsuit that has sparked heated debate in secular France, city officials said Friday.
Using language similar to bans imposed in a string of other towns on the French Riviera, the city barred apparel that “overtly manifests adherence to a religion at a time when France and places of worship are the target of terrorist attacks”.
The wording of the ban in Nice refers specifically to last month’s Bastille Day truck attack in the city that claimed 86 lives as well as the murder 12 days later of a Catholic priest near the northern city of Rouen.
Fifteen towns in the south-east, as well as others elsewhere in France, have already banned the burkini including nearby film festival host city Cannes, where three women were each fined €38 ($43; Dh158) under the ban at the weekend.
Nice’s deputy mayor Christian Estrosi, from the centre-right Republicans party, wrote in a letter to Prime Minister Manuel Valls Tuesday that “hiding the face or wearing a full-body costume to go to the beach is not in keeping with our ideal of social relations”.
Valls came under fire after saying Wednesday that the burkini was “not compatible with the values of France and the Republic”.
The Socialist premier cited the tensions in France after the extremist attacks to justify his support for the mayors who barred a garment that he said was “founded on the subjugation of women”.
France’s Human Rights League accused Valls of “participating in the stigmatisation of a category of French people who have become suspect by virtue of their faith”.
Burkinis are a rare sight on French beaches, where a small minority of Muslim women can be seen bathing in ordinary clothes and wearing headscarves.
Islamic dress has long been a subject of debate in France, which was the first European country to ban the Islamic face veil in public in 2010, six years after outlawing the headscarf and other conspicuous religious symbols in state schools.
Meanwhile, the imam of Florence, Italy triggered a storm on Friday by posting on his Facebook page a picture of a group of eight nuns, veiled and dressed in their habits, on a beach.
Izzedin Elzir, who is also president of the Union of Islamic Communities of Italy (UCOII), posted the picture without a caption but unwittingly sparked a wave of criticism.
The image was shared more than 2,000 times and drew many negative comments. Facebook blocked Elzir’s profile page for several hours after receiving hostile notifications from users.
Interviewed on Sky Tg24 television, Elzir said he had simply sought to stir a “positive debate” and in fact had received messages from “very many Christians” to thank him.
He said he posted the picture “to respond to those who say that... western values are different in the way people dress and cover their body”.
“I meant that part of western values comes from Christianity... and you can see that Christian roots are also derived from people who cover themselves almost completely.”
Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said on Tuesday that Italy would not ban the burkini, saying the measure would be fruitless and even counter-productive, as it could cause a potential backlash.