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France’s women’s rights minister sparks furious backlash with doubly controversial remark

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The French minister of women’s rights faced increasing calls for her resignation on Wednesday after she remarked on fashion brands that sell headscarves, using incendiary language that invoked American slavery to make her controversial point. Laurence Rossignol appeared on a TV show to discuss the Islamic fashion market in France, which has been booming of late, when she made the explosive comment. In response to a question about the hijab, Rossignol scolded fashion brands that design and market the item to women for being “irresponsible,” and then compared Muslim women who wear headscarves to “negroes who accepted slavery.”



Not surprisingly, the remarks ignited massive backlash — on two fronts. Some on social media slammed her choice of words, specifically the term “negroes,” pointing out that she should know better than to use such a racially-charged word because she was a founder of the French anti-racism group SOS Racisme. Rossignol later apologized for using the word, but explained away the usage as a reference to the works of an 18th-century thinker. Others blasted her for suggesting that Muslim women who wear hijabs are nothing more than consenting slaves. However, on this point, Rossignol defiantly refused to apologize. One critic on Twitter pointed out that Latifa Ibn Ziaten, and anti-radicalization activist known for wearing a hijab, was just presented with a “Women of Courage” award by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry a day earlier, and wondered whether Rossignol considers her a “consenting slave.” The backlash was so fierce, petitions emerged online calling on her to step down from her post and the hashtag #Rossignolresignation began trending on social media. Thousands, and counting, had signed the petition.

The hijab is a very divisive issue in France, Europe at large and around the world. In France, the government has banned teachers and students from wearing the headscarf in state schools, and public servants are also prohibited from wearing them. France has also banned women from wearing the niqab, a veil that fully covers the face, in public. Late last year, a state in Switzerland near the border with Italy outlawed the wearing of the burqa, a full-body veil, in public. And around the same time, an actress in Iran fled the country after facing legal action by the government when she posted a series of photos of herself in public without wearing a hijab on social media.



In recent months as terror fears have led to a demonizing of Muslims in some parts of the U.S., many women from Christian religions have taken to wearing a hijab as a show of solidarity, often with varying results. For instance one professor at a Christian college ultimately lost her job after wearing a hijab on campus caused an uproar. Still, two prominent journalists and Muslim women implored others to not take part in such displays, arguing that the hijab is “a painful reminder of the well-financed effort by conservative Muslims to dominate modern Muslim societies.”




Tags: Laurence Rossignol Islamic fashion France women’s rights

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