On Wednesday, Laurence Rossignnol, the France’s minister for women’s rights compared the women who choose to wear hijab to “American Negroes” who had once supported slavery, sparking anger & accusations of racism.
The comments by Minister Rossignol, during an interview with the French TV channel BFM, came as she criticized the fashion retailers H&M, Dolce & Gabbana, and Marks & Spencer for launching the products that are specifically designed for Muslim women, such as hijabs & the “burkini” – that is a swimsuit with a built-in hood intended to cover everything except hands, face & feet.
The French Minister said that these companies were “irresponsible” & guilty of “promoting the confinement of women’s bodies.”
When the interviewer had highlighted that many Muslim women choose to adhere to conservative Islamic dress code out of their free will, she responded: “Of course there’re women who choose it. There were American negroes who’re in the favor of slavery.”
The comparison – & specifically the language that was used – sparked an immediate reaction online.
“Racism starts with Laurence Rossignol & ends with insults, violence & blood,’” said one Twitter user.
In another tweet someone said that she must have missed the govt’s anti-racism classes.
An online petition Change.org was also launched calling for Minister Laurence Rossignol to face the “sanctions” for her comments.
“It’s with anger & exasperation that we’ve been once again confronted with the verbal violence of a political leader,” wrote organizers. “Invited to partake in false debate on ‘Islamic fashion’, [Rossignol] made scandalous propositions, fuelling the conflation and stigmatization of both Muslim women & the millions of slaves who were transported [from Africa].”
By midnight, the petition had over 14,600 signatures.
Later, however Rossignol admitted that she had made an “error of language” by using the word “Negro” while emphasizing she’d never use the word “except when talking about slavery & the slave trade”.
“But I did not take into account the most widespread perception – that one does not say ‘negro’ even if it’s allowed in respect to slavery,” said Rossignol.
“Outside of this error of language, I’m not retracting a single word I said” added the minister.
France, in 2010 had controversially introduced a ban on wearing the full Islamic veil, or niqab, in public. Supporters of the ban argued that wearing a veil violated the country’s values of gender equality & secularism, though the critics condemned it as a breach of individual liberty.