Officials in the French town of Pennes-Mirabeau have canceled a private event at a local water park intended for Muslim women to enjoy time at a pool without men after the organizers received a barrage of bigoted threats and comments.
Created by Smile 13, an organization described by CNN as a "women's community group," the event, which was scheduled for September, was billed as an opportunity for Muslim women and children (including boys up to the age of 10) to spend a day swimming among themselves. Flyers for the event reportedly asked attendees to cover themselves from chest to knees by wearing a "burkini"—a portmanteau of "burka" and "bikini" that nods to more conservative traditions. On their since-deleted Facebook page, the group reportedly described the women who wore bikinis as "more at risk for rape,"
Stéphane Ravier, a politician in the nearby city of Marseilles and member of the far right National Front party tweeted his anger at the event, characterizing it as "typical Islamist speech"
Ravier also told The Independent that, "this Islamist day demonstrates that, outside of the comforting words of Muslim authorities, a certain number of Muslims are deciding among themselves to break away from our Republican model and put themselves outside our society."
In 2011, France became the first European nation to ban the public wearing of the body-covering burkas in a controversial ruling that exemplified the country's ongoing struggles with balancing religious freedoms and efforts to assimilate Muslim communities. As a private event, however, Smile 13's Burkini pool party was entirely legal.
Pennes-Mirabeau mayor Michel Amiel described the pool party as a "provocation," telling Le Parisian on August 3rd: "This is communalism, pure and simple," according to a translation from The Independent. “I’m taking up a city bylaw that can prohibit this event," he added, "on the grounds that it is likely to cause public disorder."
That "public disorder" had, in fact, already begun to manifest in the form of threats against Smile 13. Prior to deleting their account on Facebook, the group reportedly wrote a post decrying the "narrow-minded polemicists and politicians" who had criticized their efforts, and described the abuse and death threats members had faced since organizing the event, with one member allegedly being mailed an envelope containing bullets. The group also declared themselves open to all women, regardless of dress and religious belief.
On Tuesday Mayor Amiel announced on a local radio station that the event had been canceled after he spoke with the owners of the Speed Water Park where it had been slated to take place.
"The manager of the pool had not considered the sheer emotion that organizing this event could generate," he explained. “We saw the reactions on social networks that were completely outrageous, Islamophobic, xenophobic and racist, which I totally condemn but given the circumstances we have to cool things off."
According to The Local, Smile 13 is pursuing legal action against those who threatened them.