Protesters campaigning against the Burkini ban in France staged a beach party outside the country’s embassy in London, declaring “Islamophobia is not freedom” and using the slogan “wear what you want”.
France has triggered a wave of global revulsion by enforcing a ban on the swimming costume, designed for Muslim women, which ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy has called a “provocation”.
The uproar follows photographs of a woman lying on a Nice beach, surrounded by four armed police officers and being urged to remove some of her clothing in order to comply with the ban.
On Thursday, protestors put up windbreaks and built sandcastles outside the French embassy in Knightsbridge, much to the demusement of its staff and armed police guard.
Organiser India Thorogood, 25, who planned the event less than 24 hours in advance via a Facebook group, said it is “unacceptable” that men should tell women what to wear, and that French authorities are specifically “targeting” Muslim women.
Protestor Aina Khan told BuzzFeed: “I want people to stop defining us by our clothing – we’re sick and tired of it. We’re human beings first and foremost. Muslim women are becoming the battleground for bigots.”
The display was interrupted by a woman who stormed the “beach” and complained that campaigners for women’s rights ought to focus more on education.
#WearWhatYouWant trended during the protest.
Nice’s deputy mayor Rudy Salles has defended the ban, saying the burkini was “a provocation”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s World at One: “When you see a burkini on the beach, people feel unsafe.”
Salles added that Catholic nuns would not be allowed to wear their habits on the beach in the resort.
He described himself as a “proud feminist,” saying: “I’m quite firm on this. I don’t think anyone should tell women what they can and can’t wear. Full stop. It’s as simple as that.
“I don’t think it’s right. I’m not saying we’re perfect yet, but one of the joys of London is that we don’t simply tolerate difference, we respect it, we embrace it, and we celebrate it.”