By Hajer M’tiri and Bilal Muftuoglu
PARIS (AA) – After banning ‘burkinis’ at several resort cities across France, some local authorities seem to be moving to a ban on headscarves and not just the concealing swimming suit worn by some Muslim women.
Now, one French Muslim woman recently fined by police for covering her hair on a public beach has spoken to Anadolu Agency about her ordeal.
On Aug. 16, 34-year-old Siham [surname withheld] was holidaying in Cannes with her family when she was approached by police and ordered to pay an 11-euro [$12] fine or leave the beach for wearing a headscarf.
According to police paperwork seen by Anadolu Agency, the fine was for “any person with a dress code that is not correct, respectful of morality and secularism”.
For Siham – a French-born convert to Islam – it is the first such fine since she started wearing the headscarf six years ago.
– ‘French by birth’ –
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, the mother of two said she was not wearing a burkini that day on Cannes-la-Bocca beach, just a headscarf and a normal dress:
“Someone must have called the police because three policemen headed directly toward us to inform me of the decree [from the mayor of Cannes on burkinis].”
She said police suggested she wear her headscarf as a “bandana”.
“I cannot wear my scarf as a bandana; I want to cover my neck. I do not see how this can bother anyone,” Siham told the officers, before being asked to leave the beach.
“They told me clearly: ‘You do not want to leave the beach? No? We will write you a fine.’”
For Siham, it is not only the police response which shocked her, it was onlookers’ passivity and silence: “Only three or four people came to support me. Others were quite happy, saying: ‘You do not belong here, go home.’”
“I am French by birth, of French parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. I chose to convert and they are telling me ‘Go home’!
“But I’m already home.”
Despite being contacted, Cannes police were unavailable for comment before publication of this story.
– Double standards –
One eyewitness speaking to Anadolu Agency — Mathilde C., a journalist and independent TV director who also wanted to withhold her surname — police told her the decree prohibits not just burkinis but “all ostentatious religious signs on the beach”.
When she asked officers why they are not applying it to people wearing a cross, the journalist said she received a dry response from the police: “‘Come on, we are not going to look for the cross!’”
Mathilde said she was “shocked” by the reaction of people on the beach who were largely supporting the police.
– Rejection, exclusion
Siham says: “During the six years of wearing a headscarf I never received comments or had problems with people… I have never worn the burkini on the beach.
“However, I feel I’m not able to dress the way I want on my own country,” adds. “I felt clearly rejected, excluded from my own country.”
A court in Nice on Monday ruled that the burkini ban in Villeneuve-Loubet town was “necessary, appropriate and proportionate” to prevent public disorder after a succession of terror attacks in France, including one in Nice on July 14.
At least 15 French towns have issued a decree to ban the garment.
The French Human Rights League (LDH) said it is appealing the decision. The LDH and other rights groups believe the ban is a “serious and illegal attack on numerous fundamental rights” including freedom of religion.
The French Council of State – the country’s highest court – will study the appeal on Thursday at a public hearing.
Siham insists she will not give up: “I have not paid the fine and I will appeal. I have already contacted the CCIF [Collective Against Islamophobia in France] to contest it.”
She also said she was considering a lawsuit against mayor of Cannes, David Lisnard, for having “violated individual freedoms”.
“We will do everything so that this type of incident does not happen again.”