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Joseph MicallefThe burkini ban has taken the movement to ensure public safety a step too far.

In late July, Cannes Mayor David Lisnard banned wearing burkinis on public beaches, calling them “the uniform of extremist Islamism.” More than 30 other French municipalities, many along the French Riviera, have since followed suit.

Then France’s highest court ruled that mayors don’t have the right to ban burkinis.

The French already ban the burka, a full-body drape that covers the lower face and has a meshed cloth over the eyes, and a niqab, which is identical except that a veil covers the lower face and the eyes are uncovered. The ban went into effect in 2011 and mandates fines of 150 euros ($220). Burkas, niqabs, headscarves and other “conspicuous religious symbols” were banned in French schools in 2004.

The issue has sparked a worldwide media frenzy. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls declared that he supported banning burkinis. Valls pointed out that France’s national symbol, Marianne, had her “breasts exposed and … that she wasn’t wearing a veil.” Just to be clear, the statue of Liberty at the Marianne Monument in Paris has one breast exposed while Delacroix’s iconic painting of Liberty, which is often used as a depiction of Marianne, has both breasts exposed. Whether Valls is proposing to ban the burkini in favour of the monokini is unclear. His comment was widely dismissed as moronic.

Not to be outdone, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, expected to challenge François Hollande for the presidency next year, declared that, if elected, he would immediately ban the burkini. Predictably, Marine Le Pen, the president of France’s anti-immigration National Front party, urged that the ban be immediately adopted nationally. According to a BBC report, recent polls indicate that 64 percent of the French public supported the ban and another 30 percent had no opinion.

The ban generated broad international criticism. A New York Times editorial described it as paternalistic, bigoted and hypocritical. Scores of protests from “burkini rallies” to a “wear what you want beach party,” organized on a makeshift beach in front of France’s embassy in London, were held.

A burkini is a swimsuit that covers everything except the hands, feet and face. It was designed by Australian fashion designer Aheda Zanetti. She owns the trademarks to the words burqini and burkini, although the terms are now in generic use. A similar style of bathing suit, called a veilkini, has pants and a hooded shirt but not a veil.

The burkini is not all that different from the wet suit used by scuba divers, surfers and long-distance swimmers. While it is associated with Muslim dress and in particular with the Koran’s pronouncement that “women should dress modestly,” it is not traditional attire – having been invented only in 2004.

According to Zanetti, about 40 percent of her customers are not Muslims. The outfits have been popular in Israel among the Jewish Haredi. They are also increasingly popular in Asian countries where pale skin is considered desirable. And they are available at North America retailers, including Amazon.

Western courts have long held that public security trumps personal privacy, especially in those instances where it would impede proper identification. That’s why you are asked to remove your hat and sunglasses when you cross the border or are pulled over for a traffic violation. Ditto when you vote or give testimony in a court of law.

You cannot remain anonymous if your choice of anonymity could impede public safety. That’s why police can film you without your consent. You can rail all you want that it is a violation of privacy. In an environment where every crowd is a potential terrorist target, anonymity is simply not compatible with public safety. That holds true whether you are wearing a burka, a hockey mask or a Donald Trump Halloween mask (rumoured to be this Halloween’s best seller).

The ban on burkinis is silly and misguided. While it may offend the fashion sensibilities of some French mayors, it doesn’t pose a threat to public safety. The burka, however, along with Halloween masks and any other article of clothing that impedes identification, does pose such a threat.

So leave the burkini alone but ban the burka, Halloween masks and anything else that prevents proper identification.

Joseph Micallef is a historian, best-selling author and, at times, sardonic commentator on world politics.

Joseph is a Troy Media contributor. Why aren’t you?

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