PARIS • The mayors of the French resort towns of Cannes and Villeneuve-Loubet have barred women from bathing on public beaches in swimsuits that reveal too little skin.
At issue are the full-body, head- covering garments worn by some Muslim women, which have been nicknamed burkinis, an amalgam of burqa and bikini.
The ban has drawn protests from French Muslims, who say it is discriminatory. That the debate is occurring on the Riviera, the Mediterranean vacation area that has been on edge since the terrorist attack on a Bastille Day celebration in nearby Nice, has only added to the controversy.
Critics of the ban say it risks deepening rifts with France's Muslims.
It is the latest example of the long-running tensions between France's forceful - some say inconsistent - commitment to secularism and the desire of many Muslims to express traditional values like modesty through their attire.
The Cannes mayor's ordinance, which runs till Aug 31, bars people from entering or swimming at the city's public beaches in attire that is not "respectful of good morals and secularism" and that does not respect "rules of hygiene and security".
Offenders risk a fine of €38 (S$57).
Why are burkinis against the rules? "Beach attire that ostentatiously displays a religious affiliation, while France and places of worship are the target of terrorist acts, is likely to create risks to public order," the ordinance says.
Mayor David Lisnard told the newspaper Nice-Matin that the decree was intended as a protective measure and that he was not banning "the veil, the kippa or the cross" on city beaches.
"If a woman goes swimming in a burkini, that could draw a crowd and disrupt public order," he said. "It is precisely to protect these women that I took this decision. The burkini is the uniform of extremist Islamism, not of the Muslim religion."
He said the measure could also apply to women wearing a traditional Indian sari because such a garment could hamper rescue efforts in the water.
Meanwhile, at Villeneuve-Loubet, the town's mayor, Mr Lionnel Luca, said he made the decision to bar the burkini because of sanitary reasons.
"I was informed that there was a couple on one of our beaches where the wife was swimming fully dressed," he said.
"I considered that unacceptable for hygienic reasons and that, in general, it was unwelcome."
NEW YORK TIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE