France has a long-standing problem with the religious attire of Muslims, but a senior minister on Wednesday took the matter to a whole new level by hurling racial epithet against women who chose to cover their heads and wear clothes designed for their own religion.
The minister for family, children and women’s rights, Laurence Rossignol, is facing backlash for comparing Muslim women who elect to wear veils to “negroes who supported slavery” in the United States.
Rossingol made the infuriating remarks during an interview with RMC radio and BFM TV, where she was slamming fashion houses that design products catering to Muslim woman, such as hijabs, abayas and “burkinis,” arguing designers are promoting “confinement of women’s bodies.”
When the journalist tried to talk some sense into the government official and pressed that some women choose to wear such items on their own accord, the minister retorted, “Of course there are women who choose it. There were American Negroes who were in favor of slavery.”
Needless to say, the statement prompted harsh reactions on social media, where thousands are now demanding the minister’s resignation.
“It is with anger and exasperation that we have been once again confronted with the verbal violence of a political leader,” reads a Change.org petition, demanding that Rossignol be punished. “Asked about the false debate on ‘Islamic fashion’ she came out with scandalous propositions that feed the confusion and stigmatization of Muslim women and the millions of transported slaves.”
“Negro is a pejorative word that should not be used except to evoke slavery with reference to the abolitionist work by Montesquieu,” Rossignol defended herself to BuzzFeed News, referring to political philosopher Baron de Montesquieu. “There was, therefore, no provocation on my part nor any desire to shock. It’s a word I would not use in any other circumstance.”
Although she showed remorse for using the word “Negroes,” she showed no remorse for denigrating Muslim women.
“I did not take into consideration the most common understanding [of the word],” Rossignol said later, adding she had made an “error of language” and that “one doesn’t say Negro even when it is authorized in reference to slavery.” She also made it clear she would not retract a word of what she said on the clothing lines.
France in 2010 banned Muslims for wearing any full-face covering in public, including the niqab. The European Court of Human Rights upheld the law in 2014.