Some bystanders shouted “Go home!” as the woman removed a blue tunic in front of her crying daughter, according to eyewitnesses, and photos of the incident have sparked backlash online.
“Outrage, that’s the first word that crossed my mind,” Samia Hathroubi, a French activist from the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, told Travel + Leisure of her reaction to the photos.
Some people expressed anger on Twitter, comparing the burkini controversy to debate over skirt length and other restrictions on female swimwear in the 1920s.
At least 15 French cities and towns, including Nice, have instituted some kind of ban on burkinis this summer. Mayors of these towns insist that the burkini is a sign of “Islamic extremism,” while activists, both Muslim and not, have called the bans discriminatory.
The incident in Nice occurred while a 34-year-old mother of two was sunbathing wearing leggings, a tunic and a headscarf. Four policemen asked her to remove the tunic and face a fine, saying her outfit was not “respecting good morals and secularism,” Agence-France Presse reported.
The interdiction has come as France continued to reel from a series of deadly terror attacks in the past two years that have left more than 200 people dead and hundreds more wounded. Most recently in Nice, 85 people were killed when a man drove a truck through a Bastille Day parade in July in what authorities have deemed a terrorist attack.
The burkini ban is the latest in a series of restrictions on wearing religious symbols in a country that prides itself on its secularism. In 2011, the full-body-covering niqabs worn by some Muslim women were also forbidden in public.
Critics of the burkini policies have said that the laws do not protect from terrorism but instead portend an impending lack of religious freedom for the entire society.
“We have come to a point where people no longer have a critical mind or critical thinking about what is going on,” Hathroubi said. “It’s very worrying of the mindset of the society we’re living in.”