PARIS – Shocking images of four armed police men forcing a Muslim mother to undress on beach have triggered angry reactions worldwide, blaming Islamophobia for increasing anti-Muslim women attacks.
“This picture will become iconic in later decades: it captures the sheer stupidity & bigotry of French Islamophobia,” Dr. Yasir Qadhi wrote on Twitter early on Wednesday, August 24.
Anger has been rising after a series of photos showed four police officers armed with handguns, batons and pepper spray standing around the woman who was lying on the beach wearing a blue headscarf and matching top.
After speaking to the woman, she appears to remove the blue long-sleeve top.
She is thought to have been issued with a fine and warned about the new dress code on the beach.
On Tuesday a 34-year-old mother of two, whose family have been French citizens for at least three generations, told French news agency AFP she had been fined on the beach in Cannes, 18 miles from Nice, for wearing leggings, a top and a headscarf.
The former air-hostess from Toulouse was issued a ticket saying she was not wearing “an outfit respecting good morals and secularism”.
“I was sitting on a beach with my family,” she said. “I wasn’t even planning to swim, just to dip my feet.”
After initially refusing to undress in front of the officers who were reportedly holding tear gas canisters, she was issued with an on-the-spot fine while other people on the beach allegedly shouted insults, telling her to “go home”.
Mathilde Cusin, a French journalist for France 4 TV, who witnessed the incident, said: “I saw three police officers watching the beach. One of them had his finger on the trigger of his tear gas device, no doubt containing pepper.”
“It was pretty violent. I had the impression of a pack going after a woman sitting on the ground, crying with her daughter.”
“The saddest thing was that people were shouting ‘go home’, some were applauding the police,” she said. “Her daughter was crying.”
On the other hand, the head of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) will meet Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve on Wednesday to discuss the burqini bans at the centre of a bitter row over Muslim integration.
The CFCM “is concerned over the direction the public debate is taking,” the president of the body, Anouar Kbibech, said in a statement calling for an urgent meeting with Cazeneuve, citing the “growing fear of stigmatization of Muslims in France”.
The photos caused a furor on Twitter, with many interpreting this as an incident of “police forcing the woman to undress”.
“Question of the day: How many armed policemen does it take to force a woman to strip in public?” Andrew Stroehlein, European Media Director of Human Rights Watch, wrote on Twitter.
“Exactly. With this hateful idiocy, the French authorities are only making recruiting posters for ISIS,” he added.
“Would French authorities force these women to remove their outfits for not “respecting good morals and secularism”?” Chris Doyle wrote on Twitter, posting images of fully-dressed catholic nuns in water.
“Young UK Muslims kicked off flight. French Muslim woman ordered to strip by police. The battle for hearts & minds is going well, isn’t it?” Mehdi Hassan tweeted.
“French armed police force women to reveal more flesh on beach & criminalize them in name of secularism & equality?! #BurkiniBan is bigotry,” Rachel tweeted.
“If I wear leggings & a long sleeve top on French beach will I also be made to strip by armed guards or is #BurkiniBan for Muslim women only?” Celestine, another non-Muslim, added.
“Police in France forcing women to remove their clothes in public because they disapprove of their religion. Obscene,” another added.
A comment by an activist named Sihame Assbague, retweeted more than 7,000 times, said the scene has made France “the laughing stock of the world”.
“I am so ashamed”, wrote French feminist Caroline De Haas.
A recent controversy on burkini has erupted after the French authorities’ decision to ban the swimsuit in Cannes, Corsica and Le Touquet.
The decision was criticized by many commentators who granted the burkini for giving so many women access to sports and experiences they would have otherwise avoided because of health, body or religious concerns.
According to official French government figures, published in a Time magazine opinion piece, “anti-Muslim attacks tripled between 2014 and 2015; a year earlier, in 2013, 80% of anti-Muslim attacks in France were against women.”
“Women wearing hijab or other visible clothing associated with Islam are particularly singled out for harassment and violence, often by men and increasingly in the aftermath of terror attacks in Europe. Against this backdrop of targeting of women in religious garb, any policy that links the burkini with terrorism puts Muslim women further in the crosshairs of Islamophobic violence.”