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How resorting to banning the burkini has French politicians playing straight into hands of Islamic extremists

By Lindy McDowell

There used to be a line of graffiti, daubed on a wall in central Belfast (and nicked from the original joke by John Linehan/May McFettridge) - 'Ban Topless Sunbathing. Ulster Has Suffered Enough'.

Given the sentiment expressed, it might be safe to assume that the burkini, which has elbowed aside the thong, the mankini and even budgie-smugglers as this year's most controversial swimwear option, could have a future on local beaches.

Elsewhere, this polar opposite of itsy-bitsy is not exactly wowing the authorities. This summer it has been banned in over two dozen resorts in the south of France as an affront to secularism.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls - who is a socialist - has described it as "a political sign of religious proselytising".

Similarly, the right-wing mayor of one French resort which has introduced the ban says: "We need to decide if we want a smiley, friendly version of sharia law on our beaches ..."

A spokesman for a Muslim rights group counters, however, that the move is the result of "an hysterical political Islamophobia that pits citizens against one another".

So, is it Islamophobia?

Or taking a stand for a secular state that promotes gender equality and is against the enslavement of women?

It's a complex argument which has divided France, women's rights groups and even the Muslim community.

A French court has this week ruled that the ban must be lifted. But many of the mayors who introduced it are refusing to budge. After a series of attacks in France, not least the recent horrific massacre in Nice, feelings are understandably running high.

But it has also been pointed out that a large number of the victims of the Nice lorry attack were Muslim. And that the ban, in particular the sight of a police officer standing over a woman on a beach demanding she remove her burkini, only serves to alienate and inflame moderate Muslims.

One businessman is so enraged, he has offered to pay any fine imposed on women wearing the "offending" garb.

It seems an awful lot of fuss about an outfit that looks like a long-sleeved T-shirt and a pair of leggings with a tunic on top, accessorised with something not unlike an old-style swimming cap.

Cap aside, it's not a whole lot different from those forgiving, skirted swimsuits you sometimes see. Or a wetsuit. It can't be terribly comfortable in the water though.

You can even buy a burkini in Markies. It's that mainstream. And as well as those purchasing this "modesty attire" for religious reasons it's being snapped up by bathers who for various reasons (some associated with health) don't want to get a suntan/sunburn.

Nigella Lawson famously (infamously?) was papped in one.

It would be fair to say it wasn't her best look. But each to her own?

There has been some debate about whether the burkini could, or indeed, should, be banned in the UK.

Unlike France, where headscarves are already a no-no, it's hard to envisage such a law being introduced this side of the Channel. This side of the Irish Sea? Again, it's hard to envisage a burkini ban in say, Portrush or Millisle. (The concept of "modesty attire" may even strike a chord with some of our more ardent ban fans locally. Not to mention the fact that the cover-all design could be a boon in our not-so-Nice climate.)

As a general rule I'm opposed to bans, but this has to be one of the daftest ever.

It is creating a sense of victimhood. It is playing straight into the hands of the extremists.

You don't have to be a fan of headscarves and burkas and what they symbolise in terms of gender inequality to see that.

I really do admire the French notion of an entirely secular society.

But there is a time and a place for "we will fight them on the beaches" spirit.

This isn't it.

Society shamed by thugs attacking graves

The organised, targeted desecration of 17 Jewish graves in the City Cemetery in Belfast has been rightly condemned for the vile hate attack it was. What a brave action! Thugs with hammers cheered on as they destroyed precious memorials to people who contributed so much to this place. Condemnation of the crime is easy. But what fuels these racists is a casual anti-Semitism that is rife in local society. There needs to be more condemnation of that from all quarters too. There needs to be more done about it.

We’re on the road to major indentation crisis

‘Malone Road reopens’ read a headline this week. In the circumstances maybe not the most reassuring way of putting it. The road had developed what was delicately described as an “indentation”. This has not been the first unsettling evidence of subsidence on a local thoroughfare. And I doubt if it will be the last. Belfast has a real problem with what lies beneath. In some cases it appears to be disturbingly hollow. How long before we are informed we’re suffering from a major indentation crisis?

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