The ban on the burkini swimsuit on French beaches has triggered disdain in English-speaking countries, where outlawing religion-oriented clothing is viewed as hampering integration.
Commentators have condemned the ban as an absurdity, and one questioned how a burkini could be more offensive than “middle-aged bum crack” bursting out from Western beachwear.
Experts said the debate raised questions about the French one-size-fits-all model of integration.
In Britain, the full-face veil is not an uncommon sight in towns and districts with big Muslim populations, but does not stir as strong a reaction as in France.
Defenders of the policy say a common arena without religious connotations helps avoid sectarian conflicts and encourages equality.
As a result, the burkini — like the burqa before it — has come under fire in France. Some say it channels radical Islam and oppresses women.
“It is the expression of a political project, a counter-society, based notably on enslavement of women,” French PM Manuel Valls said of the burkini.
Such views are contested in Britain on the grounds of tolerance.
Britain’s best-known example of burkini-wearing was not by a Muslim but by TV chef Nigella Lawson, who hit the headlines in 2011 when she wore a black version of it on Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia.
A BBC look at the issue found women in Britain speaking in favour of the burkini and saying it aided integration.
“The burkini allows me the freedom to swim and go on the beach, and I don’t feel I am compromising my beliefs,” Aysha Ziauddin told the broadcaster.
Maryam Ouiles said: “It’s outrageous that you would effectively be asked to uncover some flesh or leave. People are always complaining that Muslims should integrate more, but when we join you for a swim that’s not right either.”
Commentator David Aaronovitch said only warped minds would impose a burkini ban.
“The idea that full-length clothing provokes attacks on the wearer displays a poisonous logic,” he said.
“No problems are solved by this French absurdity. Only new ones created.”