France’s top court blocks wearing of ‘burkini’ in Grenoble swimming pools

The French city of Grenoble cannot go ahead with plans to allow the "burkini" full-body swimming costume at its municipal pools, the country's top administrative court ruled on Tuesday.

France's top court blocks wearing of 'burkini' in Grenoble swimming pools
The full-body 'burkini' swimsuit. Photo by MOHD RASFAN / AFP

Upholding a challenge by the national government against the move, which renewed France’s intense debate on Islam, the Council of State said that “very selective exception to the rules to satisfy religious demands… risks affecting the proper functioning of public services and equal treatment of their users”.

The all-in-one swimsuit, used by some Muslim women to cover their bodies and hair while bathing, is a controversial issue in France where critics see it as a symbol of creeping Islamisation.

Led by Green party mayor Eric Piolle, the city of Grenoble in May changed its swimming pool rules to allow all types of bathing suits, not just traditional swimming costumes for women and trunks for men, which were mandated before. Women were also permitted to swim topless.

“All we want is for women and men to be able to dress how they want,” Piolle said at the time.

Tuesday’s court decision – which concerned only the burkini and not the topless ruling or the rules on men’s swim shorts –  was “a victory for the law against separatism, for secularism and beyond that, for the whole republic,” Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin wrote on Twitter, referring to a law introduced last year to counter Islamist radicalism.

READ ALSO Why is France’s interior minister getting involved in women’s swimwear?

Attempts by several local mayors in the south of France to ban the burkini on Mediterranean beaches in the summer of 2016 kicked off the first firestorm around the bathing suit.

The restrictions were eventually overturned for being discriminatory.

Burkinis are banned in French state-run pools for hygiene reasons — not on religious grounds — while swimmers are not under any legal obligation to hide their religion while bathing.

Grenoble is not the first French city to change its rules.

The northwestern city of Rennes quietly updated its pool code in 2019 to allow burkinis and other types of swimwear.

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French Muslim union sues nation’s biggest literary star Houellebecq

The Union of Mosques in France is suing the controversial French novelist Michel Houellebecq for discrimination, hate speech and inciting violence in remarks to an interviewer, the organisation told AFP on Friday.

French Muslim union sues nation's biggest literary star Houellebecq

Houellebecq, whose books sell in big numbers, penned the international headline-grabbing 2015 novel “Submission” about a Muslim winning the presidency, which taps into right-wing fears over the rise of Islam. 

He is accused of telling an interviewer for the “Front Populaire” publication that Muslims in France should “stop stealing and being aggressive” to “ethnic” French people. 

The passages suggest there could be violence towards French Muslims, which he dubbed “reverse Bataclans”, a reference to the 2015 attacks on the Bataclan concert hall by French and Belgian-born jihadists with links to the Islamic State group. 

Houellebecq has said the controversial sections would be edited out of the interview online, and in a forthcoming book in which the remarks will feature.

Mohammed Moussaoui, president of the union, said in a statement “his proposal to replace them in a forthcoming book does not put an end to their dissemination and does not protect Muslims from their consequences”.

Stephane Simon, a contributor to “Front Populaire”, and the interviewer, philosopher Michel Onfray, are also named in the lawsuit, lawyer Najwa El Haite told AFP.