Debate Over "Burkini" Proposal Sparks Controversy in French City

After a two-and-a-half-hour debate, a French city has allowed the wearing of "burkinis," followed by a divisive vote.

Grenoble, a city in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region of southeastern France, has approved the controversial swim attire, with a slim margin of 29 versus 27, with two abstentions.

Swimwear policies are strictly enforced in most of France's public pools. Men must wear tight-fit racing trunks, while protective UV-tops are banned, except for children under ten years old.

But the controversy revolves not around the swimwear policy. Right-wing politicians in France belives that "burkini," an overall swimwear used by Muslim women to cover their bodies while swimming, is a form of Islamism.

In the weeks before the Grenoble council voted to allow burkinis in public open-air pools, the city's mayor Eric Piolle was met by fierce resistance after tabling the motion to the city's council.

Piolle proposes to let people dress "how they like" at outdoor pools. Once passed, the proposal would allow anyone to wear whatever swimwear they want, including being topless.

Laurent Wauquiez, head of the Regional Council of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, viciously attacked Piolle’s proposal to Grenoble’s council.

"Mr. Piolle intends to authorize the burkini in municipal pools; I'm warning him, if he does, the region will cut all funding to the city of Grenoble," Wauquiez threatened through social media.

"Not a cent of regional money will finance your submission to Islamism," he added vehemently.

Jean-Pierre Barbier, the conservative right-wing head of the département council, also opposed Piolle's proposal. Barbier referred to the burkini as an "Islamist standard at the heart of swimming and public leisure."

However, during the Monday council meeting, Piolle was able to rally enough votes to pass his proposal. "All we want is for women and men to be able to dress how they want," Piolle told local radio.

"I can't wait for the government to explain to us why we should hide all our religious signs in a swimming pool," Piolle added.

The issue with bikinis had been a hot topic in France's local and national politics. In 2016, resorts in Cannes banned the wearing of burkinis, causing a heated debate. Feiza Ben Mohamed of the Muslim Association of France said the move stigmatizes Muslim women on the beach.

Prisca Thevenot, a spokeswoman for Macron's En Marche party, warned Piolle of the "harm" he is doing to Republican values.

Alain Carignon, Grenoble's former conservative mayor, asked that a referendum is carried out to address the city's controversial move adequately. "You can't force through such a sensitive subject. You have no legitimacy; you weren't elected for that," Carignon said.

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