In the name of security and public order, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls defended Wednesday a ban on "burkinis" issued in various French seaside cities over the weekend, responding to controversy over various Muslim women being fined by police for not showing enough skin at the beach.
“I understand mayors, who, at this time of tension, respond by looking for solutions by avoiding disturbances to public order,” Valls said in an interview with La Provence, adding that wearing a burkini was "not compatible with the values of France and the Republic."
"Beaches, like all public areas, must be protected from religious claims. The burkini is not a new range of swimwear, a fashion. It is the expression of a political project, a counter-society, based notably on the enslavement of women," he said.
Since the city of Cannes formally banned the outfit on Friday, French police issued US$43 fines to three Muslim women over the weekend, and warned six others, reported local media.
"1966 on French beaches: Put clothes on Madam, this is forbidden! 2016 on French beaches: Put clothes off Madam, this is forbidden!" | Cartoon: Kroll (Belgium)
After Cannes, seven more French cities issued burkini bans along the Mediterranean region, which recently made headlines after the Islamic State group claimed credit for a truck attack that killed over 80 people.
A 'Muslim Issue' Made in France?
In the seaside town of Leucate, the decree, which runs until Aug. 31, bars access to public beaches to "any person who is not properly dressed, respectful of moral behavior and secularism, hygiene and bathing safety."
Many have denounced this French obsession with Muslims' clothing as the product of Islamophobia.
The Collective Against Islamophobia in France filed a lawsuit against Cannes city over the burkini ban, but a court dismissed the request. It is now taking its case to the Council of State, the highest judicial authority in France for administrative matters.
CCIF spokesman Marwan Muhammad said the bans restrict fundamental liberties and discriminate against Muslim women. "This summer we are witnessing a hysterical political Islamophobia that pits citizens against one another," he said.
France's League of Human Rights also filed a complaint against the city of Villeneuve-Loubet, which a court will hear on Aug. 19.
The French political establishment backs the bans, however, from the Socialist Prime Minister Valls to far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who said on her blog that, "What is at stake is the soul of France."