Muslims blast French Islamophobic backlash over hijab campaign
Muslim commentators have condemned the anti-Muslim French backlash against an EU-wide campaign that was promoting respect for hijabi Muslim women.
The Council of Europe, a pan-European human rights body, produced a series of social media posts celebrating women in hijab. It was part of a project with the EU to combat hate speech and Islamophobia in Europe.
But the group was forced to pull the content after the French government objected.
"Beauty is in diversity. As Freedom is in Hijab. #Celebratediversity #JoyinHijab,” ran a slogan in one video.
Several anti-Muslim politicians in France hit out at the campaign, arguing that the hijab did not represent their version of freedom.
Many Muslims on Twitter said it yet again showed another example of French bigotry masquerading as secularism, pointing out the hypocrisy of talking about freedoms but yet dictating what Muslim women should wear.
Leading the backlash against the campaign were far-right politicians.
Anti-muslim journalist Eric Zemmour, tipped to run for French presidency, tweeted: "Islam is the enemy of freedom. This campaign is the enemy of truth."
Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's far-right National Rally, tweeted: "It's when women take their veil off that they become free, not the other way around."
The mood music from extremist politicians was amplified by mainstream figures from both left-wing and right-wing parties.
The Macron government said it had told the Council of Europe to pull the campaign. French Minister for Young People Sarah El Hairy told LCI TV that the images went against the country's secular values. "This is to be condemned and because of this France made clear its extremely strong disapproval and hence the campaign has now been withdrawn as of today," she said.
With a general election looming next year, pundits say anti-Muslim sentiment plays well with the French electorate. An opinion poll this week showed more of the country’s voters were shifting to the right and the far right.
This episode again shows the depth of anti-Muslim sentiment in a country that struggles to accept diversity within its brand of secularism, which it uses to define its national identity.
"Hypocritical French public and political figures"
After pulling down the content, The Council of Europe said it will reflect on the presentation of this campaign, which it created in partnership with Femyso, a Muslim youth organisation across Europe.
In a statement, Femyso pulled no punches as it attacked French society for the way it treats Muslims. It said the campaign has been "attacked by hypocritical French public and political figures who continue to exercise their double standards when it comes to the topic of human rights by promoting liberty only for some and especially not Muslim communities."
The sentiment was echoed on social media. Twitter was quick to point out the French hypocrisy — a country that has "liberty," "equality" and “fraternity” in its motto.
"Let's be honest: this isn't about the #hijab. Hijab or not, #Muslim women are facing discrimination everyday. This is oppression masquerading itself as liberation by French politicians. Forcing people to do or wear something is not freedom. Taking away choice is not freedom," tweeted The European Network Against Racism.
Zara Mohammed, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: "Yet again we see an affront on and dismissal of Muslim women’s right to choice by exclusionary French politics. Their attempt to impose their intolerant views on the rest of us only strengthens our resolve to continue."
Tallha Abdulrazaq, an academic and counterterrorism expert, said: "There's no real endpoint to France's Islamophobia. They cannot even tolerate EU-funded Council of Europe celebrating diversity of Muslim women in hijab. All other diversity is fine, just never this. CoE should grow a backbone & tell France to go do one.