When a swimsuit is a security threat

How do pants, a long-sleeve shirt and a head covering made of swimsuit material threaten public safety?

According to France’s prime minister, Manuel Valls, the suit is part of “the enslavement of women.” In a newspaper interview, the mayor of Cannes, David Lisnard, said: “The burkini is the uniform of extremist Islamism, not of the Muslim religion.”

These explanations may seem ludicrous, but Mr. Valls and Mr. Lisnard perfectly summed up the two contradictory public order rationales that European courts all the way up to the European Court of Human Rights use when dealing with Muslim women in religious garb. According to Europe’s highest court of human rights, Muslim women in head scarves and burqas are simultaneously victims, in need of a government savior, and aggressors, spreading extremism merely by appearing Muslim in public.

The jurisprudence reflects a perspective deeply ingrained in the French conception of Muslims and Muslim religious garb. To the extent that these French politicians were calculating their legal risk when banning burkinis, they had to know the European Court of Human Rights, which has routinely affirmed lower courts on these issues, would be on their side if they cited public order concerns.