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Is France xenophobic about its veiled Muslim women?

The statement made on Thursday 31 March 2016 by France’s Families and Women’s Rights Minister, Laurence Rossignol, added fuel to the far right Islamophobic attacks against Muslims. It also provides further ammunition for the large part of French media which are already notorious for their negative portrayal of Muslims. It is a contradiction in terms for a minster who attacks the freedom of dress in democratic country like France to, at the same time, head the ministry whose raison d’être is essentially defending women’s rights.

In the type of liberal democracy which the minister believes in, it seems that every form of freedom to choose one’s dress, including miniskirts or very tight leggings, which are both sexually explicit should be respected, except the liberty to choose to wear the Muslim woman’s dress.

In a statement to Monte Carlo and BFM TV, while commenting on the increasing trend of selling collections to Muslim women by famous brands such as Dolce & Gabbana and H&M, she described Muslim veiled women as “slaves who prefer slavery”.

Although this is out of a free choice she went further by adding, “There are women who choose to wear the hijab. There were African Americans too who preferred to be enslaved”!! (theguardian.com)

This is by all means a racist spat which by modern standards is intolerable. Will the minister dare to make the same inflammatory comments about Jewish women who abide by the codes of conduct described in Judaic scriptures? How about Christian sisters who abide by the teachings of Jesus in terms of their dress codes?

Do Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant women “prefer slavery” too? In a similarly arrogant fashion Rossignol claims that these brands of Muslim women’s dress are dangerous “…those same brands, with such Islamic collections, give an image of women that is dangerous for the rights and freedom of Muslim women in France.” (CNN.Com)

The minister, who has provoked rage and exasperation, claims that the hijab “…promotes the shutting away of women’s bodies”.

While the minister has been concerned about French women from the Muslim faith who choose freely to follow the Islamic dress codes, it is remarkable that we don’t hear a critical stance about the exploitation of women’s body in advertising campaigns for instance. The modern advertising industry capitalizes on the woman’s body as a marketing tool. Sophisticated ads display almost bare bodies in order to sell a product such as an expensive car, a watch, perfume or an electronic devise to name a few. Adverts which portray women in bikinis are actually selling two products. One is the merchandise, and the second is women’s naked bodies as part of a consumer culture.

Or maybe the French Families and Women’s Rights minister should have a say on the alleged ‘sickening sex abuse’ which a few French UN soldiers have been recently accused of in the Central African Republic. The Al-Jazeera.com reported on Friday 1 April 2016 that the ‘UN and French peacekeepers (were) accused of grim abuses in the restive African nation, including bestiality with children’. The news also reads that ‘A report by a US-based advocacy group said three girls in CAR told UN staff they were tied up and forced to have sex with a dog by a French military commander in 2014’ (Aljazeera.com).

Furthermore, we wish to hear a critical stance from the minister on how women’s bodies are disgustingly exposed and exploited in tens of sex magazines sold all over France, available to youth and children.

We also wish to hear an echo of wisdom from the minister about the exploitation of women’s bodies as a sex object in the film industry. In France as well as many other parts of the world, scores of adult TV channels can also be accessed by children and youth. If any, the hundreds of explicit sex films are appalling in the way they present graphic hard core sex acts; which are certainly not healthy for the morale and psychological development of children and youth.

By making the inflammatory remarks about women, the French minister, Rossignol, aims to further alienate French Muslims. This leads to a widening in the gap between communities and furthers the discourse of the ‘us’ and ‘them’. The debate recalls the epoch of colonization and the post-colonial area which legitimated its raison d’être in the colonies based on the “us” civilized and the ‘them’ backward; the “us” masters and the “them” as slaves.

The fear mongering media campaigns against Muslims in Europe are already leading to a tense atmosphere of increasing panic in which right-wing groups thrive. On Saturday 2 April 2016 a far-right activist decided to run over a Muslim woman with a car in Brussels Molenbeek. Such hate-driven actions are expected to increase because of the simmering and tense atmosphere.

Will policy makers take pro-active measures to deter the upsurge in Islamophobia?

This article was first published by The Peninsula.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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