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Muslim Protesters In Burkinis Cause French City To Close Public Pools

By Danielle Dorsey

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Europe has been experiencing an early summer heatwave, with authorities warning that temperatures could pass 40C and reach 45C in parts of the continent by Saturday. Previous heat records in France are expected to be broken and schools in certain parts of the country have shut down as a result. The cities of Paris, Lyon, Strasbourg and Marseille have banned older cars from entering city centers to combat pollution. Some 15,000 people died when a similar heatwave struck France in 2003 and the country is taking all possible precautions to avoid similar tragedy.

That is, except for the French city of Grenoble, which has made it more difficult for residents to cool off by closing all public pools. The shutdown is in response to seven Muslim women and activists from the Grenoble-based Alliance Citoyenne who wore burkinis at the pool on Sunday as an act of civil disobedience against the city’s burkini ban. Members from Alliance Citoyenne told CNN that they were inspired by the Montgomery Bus Boycott and hoped to start a larger conversation about the discrimination Muslim women face in France. Before the pools were closed, the group had planned to host protest swims every Sunday.

The story has gained international attention and criticism, but French officials remain stubborn on the issue. 

Right-wing parliament member Eric Ciotti said the burkini “has no place in France where women are equal to men” and Matthieu Chamussy, a member of the center-right party, used the situation to stoke anti-Muslim fears, saying, “political Islam is advancing step by step, the cause of women reversing.”

Grenoble Mayor Eric Piolle tweeted that, “When it comes to equal access of a public service, the role of the state is to pose clear and just rules for everyone. National solidarity is at stake.”

France has the largest Muslim population in Europe, with Muslims making up about 9 percent of the population. In 2011, it became the first country to ban the full veil, arguing that the garment oppressed women. In 2016, the mayor of Cannes banned burkinis, claiming a potential tie to Islamic extremism. At least 20 other French cities have since joined the burkini ban. These bans limit how Muslim women navigate society, effectively limiting their access to employment and education opportunities. 

Officials have not indicated when the pools will reopen. Grenoble had a high of 100 degrees on Friday and similar highs are expected throughout the weekend.

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Danielle Dorsey

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