A French city closed two public swimming pools after seven Muslim women “inspired by Rosa Parks” defied a citywide ban to swim in their burkinis on Sunday, despite a heatwave that triggered special measures to protect public health.
Two pools, Jean Bron and Les Duaphins de Grenoble, were closed on Wednesday and Thursday due to “incivilities”, which a city hall spokesperson told The Independent was related to the protest, but also caused by teenagers threatening and being rude to lifeguards.
However, both city hall and mayor Eric Piolle’s statements on the closures spoke almost exclusively of the protesters, whom the latter denounced as using “tactics of shock and buzz”.
The display of civil disobedience was part of a campaign dubbed Operation Burkini, launched in May by Grenoble’s Citizen Alliance, which supported and documented the activists as they enjoyed the pool and were cheered by other swimmers and around 30 supporters.
“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,” Citizens Alliance wrote in a statement.
The women remained in the water for nearly an hour despite being reprimanded by lifeguards beforehand, and received cheers and embraces from other swimmers.
They were apprehended by police, received a fine and were banned from using public pools for one month, the city hall spokesperson said.
“I hear controversy, but there are two interpretations of republican equality possible, which is precious to everyone here,” Mr Piolle said in a statement.
“For some, Grenoble’s current regulations, which are essentially the same as everywhere in France, are considered discriminating.
“Grenoble protects equality by distancing itself from symbols of religious belonging.”
France has courted intense debate on the religious clothing after it became the first European country to ban public use of the full-face veil in 2010, deeming it an affront to secular values.
Burkinis – a type of swimming costume that covers the arms, legs and hair – were also banned at many swimming areas in France in 2016 after a series of terrorist attacks shocked the nation.
The Grenoble pool closures came as a heatwave caused city officials to open parks throughout the night in an effort to safeguard public health, while the Centre Communal d'Action Social contacted isolated senior citizens to warn them about the hot weather.
“The burkini has no place in France where the woman is the equal of the man,” Local MP Eric Ciotti wrote on Twitter.
“To allow these Islamist activists in Grenoble and throughout France is to give up the Republic. I will never accept it.”
Citizen Alliance told The Independent: “This is the beginning of a long campaign for the recognition of Muslim women’s rights in France.
“Xenophobia has been strong against Muslim people and specifically Muslim women.
“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.”
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