French minister accused of Islamophobic comments on veil

French government minister compares women who prefer to wear veil to 'negroes who supported slavery,' triggering anger and accusations of racism

Photo by: Reuters (Archive)
Photo by: Reuters (Archive)

French Minister for Families, Children and Women's Rights Laurence Rossignol.

Updated Mar 31, 2016

France's women's rights minister Laurence Rossignol was faced with negative reaction on Thursday for comparing Muslim women who wear the veil to "negroes who supported slavery".

An online petition asking for the President of the Republic to take action against Rossignol's racist remarks had generated more than 18,000 signatures.

Speaking on French radio RMC on Wednesday about fashion houses commercialising accessories such as veils or headscarves, the French Minister for Families, Children and Women's Rights, Laurence Rossignol, said, "When brands invest in the Islamic clothing market - just because it's lucrative - they're stepping away from their social responsibilities, and from some perspectives, they're promoting an enslavement of women's bodies."

Asked about women who made the choice to wear the headscarf without any external pressure, the minister responded, "There are women who choose [to wear the scarf], there were also American negroes who were for slavery."

"I think that these women are for many of them are activists of political Islam. I confront these brands in terms of ideas and I denounce the project that companies carry," she continued.

Those comments triggered a strong wave of criticism and calls for the minister to resign for degrading women wearing headscarves and for her use of the word "negro."

It was as if she had "set out to help the recruiters of DAESH", said Abdallah Zekri, president of the National Observatory against Islamophobia.

The minister had "stigmatised" thousands of women, he said, adding that she "spat in the face of the laws of the Republic by trying to interfere with the way women dressed."

The hashtag, #RossignolDemission (#RossignolResign), was trending on Twitter across France demanding that she step down.

Her comments were also condemned as "dangerous and irresponsible", by the League of French Muslim Women, who reminded her that women who wear the veil and headscarf were the main victims of racist attacks on the street.

''It is all the more surprising because the government has just launched a campaign against racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia," the league's statement added.

Many internet users accused Rossignol of racism and Islamophobia.

Comedian Olivier Perrin joked that she would make a good campaign director for US presidential hopeful Donald Trump, who has drawn fire for his comments about women and Muslims.

Rossignol, who is also minister of family and child matters, tried to row back on the comments she made during a radio interview Wednesday.

She told AFP the n-word was a reference to an abolitionist tract by the French philosopher Montesquieu, "On the Enslavement of Negroes".

Several international clothing and accessories brands have recently launched lines for "Islamic Modest wear": the Swedish giant H&M last year used a Muslim Hijabi model as their main face for its advertising campaign, with the Japanese brand Uniqlo earlier this month announcing it would begin selling hijabs in its London stores.

The British brand Marks & Spencer has also recently announced their marketing of full-body "burqini" swimming costumes on its online store. Last year Zara, Tommy Hilfiger, Oscar de la Renta and Mango all launched varyingly "modest" collections for Muslim women.

Luxury fashion brand Dolce & Gabbana launched last January a collection of hijabs and abayas targeting wealthy Muslim women in the Middle East.

TRTWorld, AA