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The city of Grenoble, France, took a drastic measure this week after a group of Muslim women protested the country’s bans on some religious by donning special swimsuits called “burkinis” and swimming in various public pools around the city.
Like many other areas of France, Grenoble has laws against women wearing burkinis — essentially full-body swimsuits that also cover the wearer’s hair.
As a result of the women’s actions on Sunday, city officials temporarily shut down two public swimming pools in the midst of heat wave a currently scorching the country, according to the U.K. Independent.
The Independent reported that the pool stunt stemmed from a protest started in May called “Operation burkini,” which was organized by a group known as Grenoble’s Citizen Alliance. The group supported and even documented the protesters as they swam in the public pools.
The newspaper reported that a statement from the citizen alliance group explained that the women wore the burkinis to the pool to show that they should be able to have access to public services while respecting their religious beliefs.
“They contested a situation in which close to a thousand female inhabitants of Grenoble find themselves obliged to choose between respecting their religious convictions and accessing public services,” the statement read.
Grenoble Mayor Eric Piolle denounced the protesters by claiming they were using “tactics of shock and buzz,” the Independent reported.
Lifeguards in charge of the pools requested they be shut down out of concern for public safety, saying they wouldn’t be able to effectively do their jobs if they had to worry about the crowds stemming from the protesting Muslim women, according to The Guardian.
France became the first European nation to ban the full-face veil worn by some Muslim women in 2010, which sparked controversy at the time. The ban on burkinis in numerous public swimming areas was enacted after multiple terrorist attacks in 2016.
According to the Guardian, Eric Ciotti, a member of the conservative Republican Party who represents the area in Parliament, wrote on Twitter that the ban is necessary because the burkini “has no place in France where women are equal to men.”
Yet, at the same time, he implied that the stunt was Islamist activism.
“To allow these Islamist activists in Grenoble and throughout France is to give up the Republic. I will never accept it,” Ciotti added, the Guardian reported.
But the Grenoble’s Citizen Alliance group likened the burkini protest to that of the actions of civil rights icon Rosa Parks in the United States.
“This is the beginning of a long campaign for the recognition of Muslim women’s rights in France,” the group said in a statement, according to the Independent.
The group threatened further incidents until Muslim women are afforded the same rights as other women in the country.
“Civil disobedience action will spread across French cities until equal rights to access public services and every job are guaranteed to Muslim women, just like every citizen,” the statement said.
And, like it or not, it makes sense. As long as a group feels that its rights are being suppressed or taken away, protests in one form or another are inevitable.
This likely won’t be the last burkini protest in the country.
France faces an interesting quandary with its strict bans on Muslim garb being worn in public. Will national and local officials double down and maintain the bans and attribute their necessity to national security concerns? Or will they try to be more like the United States, where religious freedoms are highly valued by its citizens.
I can’t even begin to imagine the backlash from the Muslim community, not to mention progressive activists, if a U.S. city enacted similar restrictions. I’m sure it would be blamed on President Donald Trump, but it would still be quite the spectacle.