French mayor on burkini ban: ‘They must accept our way of life’

COGOLIN, France — The mayor of a seaside town on the French Riviera is sticking by his town’s burkini ban, telling beachgoers, “if you don’t want to live the way we do, don’t come.”

“You have to behave in the way that people behave in the country that accepted you, and that is it,” Cogolin Mayor Marc Etienne Lansade said.

“If you are accepted in Rome — do like Romans do,” he said, adding, “go in Saudi Arabia and be naked and see what will happen to you.”

Lansade, of the right-wing National Front political party, is maintaining the ban despite a ruling by France’s highest administrative court that mayors do not have the right to outlaw burkinis.

He’s not alone. Several French mayors are also enforcing their bans in the face of Friday’s ruling, which concerned the nearby town of Villeneuve-Loubet although it could affect cities around the country.

Burning issue of the summer

The ruling came after more than 30 French towns banned the burkini, a swimsuit which covers the whole body except for the face, hands and feet and is worn mostly by Muslim women.

Officials have said the ban on the outfit was a response to growing concerns about radical Islamic terrorism. Last month, a truck rampage killed more than 80 people in Nice, and attackers stabbed an 86-year-old priest in northern France.

But human rights activists argue that burkini bans are illegal and that efforts to outlaw the garment are Islamophobic.

More court cases to follow?

The Collective Against Islamophobia in France, one of the plaintiffs in the burkini case, plans to sue each municipality maintaining the ban on the full-length swimsuit.

“These mayors don’t want to lose face in front of extreme-right voters,” said Marwan Muhammad, the group’s president. “The CCIF will methodically remind them of the law.”

But Lansade intends to enforce the ban until Sept. 15, adding that the burkini is “humiliating for the women that are wearing them.”

“I don’t think that many of them do that (wear a burkini) because they want to — but because they have to,” he said. “We have to protect those people.”

Ruling divides opinion

In France, opinion is divided between those who see the laws as an infringement on religious freedom and those who view the Islamic dress as inconsistent with France’s rigorously enforced secularism.

Amnesty International Europe Director John Dalhuisen was one of many human rights activists who praised last week’s ruling.

“By overturning a discriminatory ban that is fueled by and is fueling prejudice and intolerance, today’s decision has drawn an important line in the sand,” Dalhuisen said in a statement Friday.

Meanwhile, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls and former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who plans to run again for the nation’s top job, have supported the bans.

Valls called the burkini a “symbol of the enslavement of women,” and Sarkozy said wearing it was a “provocation.”