25 August 2016, The Tablet

Italian religious leaders criticise ‘burkini ban’

Photographs emerged this week of armed police on a beach in Nice forcing a Muslim woman to remove her long-sleeved tunic

The secretary-general of the Italian bishops’ conference, Msgr Nunzio Galantino, has criticised the ban in some French coastal cities of the so-called ‘burkini’, a full-body swimsuit that covers the back and top of the head.

Last week, Nice banned beachwear that “overtly manifests adherence to a religion at a time when France and places of worship are the target of terrorist attacks”. Cannes and other resorts on the French Riviera have used similar language in their bans.

Speaking to Italian daily Correire della Sera, Msgr called for “common sense”. “It’s hard to imagine that a woman [in a burkini] who enters the water is there to carry out an attack,” he said. Msgr Galantino agreed with Pope Francis’ view, expressed in an interview with French Catholic daily La Croix in May, that if a Muslim woman wants to wear the veil, she should be able to do so. “I say the same myself,” said Msgr Galantino, “I think of our nuns, I think of our peasant grandmothers who still wear head coverings.”

He said he hoped the current situation might be an opportunity to rediscover the value “of [religious] symbols, and even of modesty.” “Let me tell you,” he said, “I find it ironic that we are alarmed that a woman is overdressed while bathing in the sea!”

Last week, Imam Izzedin Elzir, the imam of Florence, made a similar comparison by posting a photograph of habited Catholic sisters on a beach on Facebook. The post was shared almost 3,000 times, and the picture also made the rounds on Twitter. Imam Elzir’s Facebook account was then reported to Facebook as being a false account, and temporarily deactivated; he had to send Facebook a document to prove his identity before it was restored.

Speaking to International Business Times UK, Imam Elzir said: “This photo [of nuns on the beach] proves that both Muslim women and nuns dress in a certain way. If you look at churches, if you go to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, you will see that the Virgin Mary is covered. This concept of covering oneself, in a peaceful way and without offending others, is also present in Europe’s roots.”

The criticism comes as photographs emerged on Wednesday of armed police on a beach in Nice forcing a Muslim woman to remove her long-sleeved tunic. The French Human Rights League is meeting on Thursday with the State Council, France’s highest administrative court, to appeal against the ban.

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