Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Muslim woman barred from Paris pool for `burquini'
Sama Wareh walks along the sand dressed in swimwear designed to comply with Muslim sensibilities.
PARIS – A Muslim woman who tried to go swimming in a head-to-toe "burquini" has been banned from her local pool in the latest tussle between religious practices and secular authority in France.
Officials on Wednesday insisted they banned the woman's use of the Islam-friendly swimsuit because of France's unusually strict hygiene standards in pools — not because of official hostility to wearing overtly Muslim garb.
Under the policy, swimmers are prevented from wearing any street-compatible or baggy clothing, such as Bermuda shorts, in favor of figure-hugging suits.
The woman, a 35-year-old convert to Islam identified only as Carole, complained of religious discrimination after trying to go swimming in her burquini in the Paris suburb of Emerainville.
She was quoted as telling the daily Le Parisien newspaper that she had bought the burquini after deciding "it would allow me the pleasure of bathing without showing too much of myself, as Islam recommends." "For me this is nothing but segregation," she added.
The issue of religious attire is a hot topic in France, where head-to-toe burqas or other full-body coverings worn by Muslim fundamentalists are in official disfavor.
French lawmakers recently proposed a ban on the burqa and other voluminous Muslim attire. President Nicolas Sarkozy backs the move, saying such clothing makes women prisoners.
But Daniel Guillaume, a regional official in charge of swimming pools, said Carole's poolside rebuff had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with public health standards.
He said swimmers throughout France must wear special clothes to the pool, whereas a burquini could be worn all day long, collecting everything from food spills to sweat along the way.
"These clothes are used in public, so they can contain molecules, viruses, et cetera, which will go in the water and could be transmitted to other bathers," Guillaume said in a telephone interview.
"We reminded this woman that one should not bathe all dressed, just as we would tell someone who is a nudist not to bathe all naked," he said.
Guillaume said France's public health standards require all pool-goers to don appropriate attire — swimsuits for women and tight, swim-specific briefs for men — and caps to cover their hair. Bathers also must shower before entering the water.
Guillaume said Carole had tried to file a complaint at a local police station, but her request was turned down as groundless.
Carole told the daily Le Parisien she would protest with the help of anti-discrimination groups.
One has to acknowledge however, irrespective of what side of the divide you are on, that esthetically, the 'burquini' leaves a little to be desired, just a little.