NICE, France — The leader of a French Islamophobia watchdog group said Friday that it will sue every town that continues to enforce burkini bans after France’s highest administrative court struck down the practice in Villeneuve-Loubet.
"We will sue them in every single case. Until they abide by the law," Marwan Muhammad, the executive director of the association Collectif contre l'islamophobie en France (CCIF) said in a phone interview with BuzzFeed News. CCIF was a party to the lawsuit in Villeneuve-Loubet.
"It's a huge victory for human rights, because it reaffirms the rule of law when most politicians are falling in the Islamophobic trap," he added.
His comment came after city officials in Nice — located not far from Villeneuve-Loubet — said Friday that the bans will remain in effect as long as its own ban wasn't overturned.
Muhammad added that his group received 15 reports of discrimination against Muslim women on French beaches in the last two weeks, even though the women were in hijab and not burkini swimsuits.
"On an average we have between 800-900 cases of discrimination and Islamophobic hate-crime cases over the year, but just in the last couple weeks, we have received 15 different incidents on beaches.
"All of the [cases] involved Muslim women wearing the simple headscarf, they were not wearing what they call the burkini. So this is the proof that this issue and controversy are not about the burkini or the bathing suit itself. It's about stigmatising and banning Muslims from any sort of participation."
One of the women who received a fine for covering her hair was Siam, 34, who says she was wearing hijab – not a burkini – with leggings and a tunic in Cannes.
"I wasn't intending on bathing, just dipping my feet in the water," Siam told L'Obs, the French news website.
In Nice on Friday, Muslim mothers sat on benches of the Promenade des Anglais while their children swam in the sea — previously they would have joined their children on the beaches.
Mohammad said his anti-Muslim hate crime monitoring group gained seven thousand new members across the country just in the last two weeks. The members come from different faith groups and communities.
The images of armed police on French Riviera ordering a middle-aged Muslim woman to remove her top had been a turning point, Mohammad said. (The woman was not wearing what's considered a burkini.) He added the Muslim woman – whose image has become a symbol of the burkini ban – did not know she was in the media spotlight.
"It took her two days to realise this happened to her, and she was really in shock because of what happened and she wants to keep very quiet and low profile and doesn't want any interaction with the media," said Muhammad, who is in contact with the woman's family.
"The turning point is that for the first time the political elite in France could not deny its own racism anymore, because it was [shown] in front of everyone else in the rest of the world."
He said some of the women the group had spoken to no longer saw the point of going to the beach, and did not want to be humiliated in front of their children.
Yet, he said, after the ruling in Villeneuve-Loubet, he said he hoped "tomorrow and the day after people go back and get on with their lives like they used to."