In France, another dispute has broken out over burkinis, the Muslim full-body bathing suits. The reason is local: the city of Grenoble wants to discuss changing the swimming pool regulations on Monday and will no longer dictate to women how much or how little material they can go into the water with.

According to Green Mayor Éric Piolle, topless is fine from June 1st, as well as bathing suits that extend past the knees and neck – like the burkinis, which he is primarily concerned with in the relaxation. Some critics in France, which insists on a strict separation of state and religion, suspect a gradual Islamization behind this plan.

The mayor himself doesn’t see it as a big deal. Discrimination in access to public services must be avoided, it is about social progress that people can wear whatever they want to the bath, emphasizes Piolle. “Actually, we don’t care whether it’s a body-covering bathing suit to protect against the sun or for religious reasons, that’s none of our business,” the mayor recently told the newspaper “Le Figaro” and lamented “debates of extreme violence”.

Even if it’s not officially about burkinis, the history suggests that they are still central. After protests for the approval of the Muslim bathing suits, the mayor showed clear sympathy for the group that is campaigning for it.

His conservative adversary on the city council, Alain Carignon, sensed illegitimate support for political Islam and called for a referendum. In addition, opponents of the burkini launched a petition. “A change in the bathing rules would meet the demands of a political Islam, that is, a totalitarian and radical ideology,” the appeal said. Burkinis have nothing to do with the Koran, they are about the sexist ideology of subjugating women. A rejection of burkinis is not Islamophobic, on the contrary, special claims of individual groups cannot be placed above the principles of the republic.

The burkini is not mentioned by name at all in the draft of the new bathing regulations, which the newspaper “Le Parisien” was able to see. Rather, the term “bathing suit” is replaced by the term “swimwear”, and the stipulation that the bathing suit may only reach from the knees to the neck no longer applies.

It remains the case that swimwear must be made of fabric designed for this purpose and must fit snugly. Clothing that has been worn before entering the pool or that poses a risk to safety and hygiene remains prohibited.

Conservative regional president Laurent Wauquiez has already deployed heavy artillery against the burkini plans in Grenoble. “I warn the mayor: in this case, the region will stop all subsidies to the city of Grenoble. Not a cent of the residents of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes will finance submission to Islamism.”

Prefect Laurent Prévost even announced legal action on Sunday evening if burkinis are allowed to be worn in public baths in Grenoble. According to the instructions he received from Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, he will go to the administrative court to have the regulation suspended.

But why has France been so dogged about the headscarf for so long?

As early as 1994, a law came into force that only permitted discrete religious symbols in schools. Ten years later, headscarves were completely banned in schools – yarmulkes and crosses were not. In 2010, the full veil was banned in public, the so-called burqa ban.

In the summer of 2016, there was already a heated argument in France about burkinis. The State Council finally declared municipal burkini bans, such as those enacted on the Côte d’Azur, to be illegal. Municipalities then used hygiene and safety pretexts to keep burkinis banned from beaches and baths.