The burkini may have been designed with Muslim women in mind, but its inventor said they are hardly the only group interested in the modest swimwear.
“Over 40 percent of our sales are from non-Muslim women,” Aheda Zanetti told Politico. “The Jewish community embraces it. I’ve seen Mormons wearing it. A Buddhist nun purchased it for all of her friends. I’ve seen women who have issues with skin cancer or body image, moms, women who are not comfortable exposing their skin — they’re all wearing it.”
Zanetti, a Lebansese migrant who moved to Australia in 1969, invented the burkini in 2004 so Muslim women could participate in swimming and outdoor athletic activity while adhering to their religious dress code. She said that the swimsuit, which covers a woman’s whole body save her face, feet and hands, has helped improve integration and understanding of Muslims in Australia.
“Australians actually thought it was a fantastic idea,” Zanetti said. “The burkini did wonders for Muslim women and girls. It created confidence to get active. Now the French say it’s not their values. I don’t understand what French values are then. Is it French values to force someone to wear a bikini?”
At least 20 Mediterranean municipalities and several more in northern France have banned burkinis, with French Prime Minister Manuel Valls claiming the swimwear is contrary to French values and a demonstration of “the enslavement of women.” Cannes Mayor David Lisnard called it a “symbol of Islamic extremism,” and issued a ruling saying that “beachwear which ostentatiously displays religious affiliation, when France and places of worship are currently the target of terrorist attacks, is liable to create risks of disrupting public order.”
France’s burkini controversy has drawn global attention, as the tense European nation remains on edge following a July terrorist attack in the seaside town of Nice that killed 86 people. The country is home to nearly 5 million Muslims, who have been subjected to renewed scrutiny as Europe becomes a target for extremists.
On Wednesday, a burkini-clad woman on a public beach in Nice was surrounded by police and forced to remove her modest swimwear. The woman was also fined and asked to leave the beach.
“I heard things I had never heard to my face,” from a crowd that gathered, the woman told French magazine L’Obs. “Like, ‘Go back to where you came from,’ ‘Madame, the law is the law, we are fed up with this fuss,’ and ‘We are Catholic here.’ ”
Zanetti said that although the name burkini is a combination of bikini and burqa, the Muslim garment women wear to cover themselves in public, it wasn’t meant to exclude anyone who wants to enjoy water sports while covered up. The global debate over her product has increased online sales by about 200 percent.
“When I first wore it, people would come up to me and say ‘finally, fantastic, you’ve got something you can wear, it looks good, and it’s suitable.’ It didn’t look like a typical Muslim garment,” Zanetti said. “I hope the French prime minister and the mayors see that they should find out how to combine communities, how to work around issues, instead of harming the community, taking the beach away from some people and punishing them. That’s just hatred.”