NICE, France, Sept 14 – For students Omeyma Jebali and Sofia Abbou a ban on the burkini swimming costume, though now lifted, has ruined the allure of the beaches of southern France, unleashing a debate that seemed to them to question their place as Muslim women in France.
“We never had any problems, everything was really fine. But then, since these bans, we’ve become completely disheartened,” 21-year-old Jebali said as Muslims in France and across the world celebrated the Eid festival.
Jebali, who started wearing the veil when she was 16 and used to go swimming with a burkini, said she stopped going to the beach because of the bans, which were put in place by dozens of mayors after an Daesh attack on Nice.
“I didn’t feel like going to a beach in Nice or Cannes only to find myself surrounded by four policemen having to debate what secularism means in France in 2016,” she said.
The bans have since been lifted but their mood has not changed.
“Me personally, with my burkini, I haven’t been back.”
Eighty-six people, including many Muslims, died in the Bastille Day attack in Nice, in which a man drove a truck into crowds of revellers.
France’s Council of State overturned bans on full-body burkini swimsuits at the end of August but the debate which has divided the government and split society rumbles on.
“I think these bans were put in place to create a climate of terror, and to divide people, though there’s no justification for that,” 22-year-old economics major Abbou said.
“I think after attacks like the one of July 14, what our politicians needed to do was to reassure the population, to do everything to bring people together, Muslims, non-Muslims, atheists, Christians, and act so people can live in a country where they feel safe.”