France’s minister for women’s rights has compared Muslim women who wear the veil to American “Negroes” who accepted slavery, in an interview with French media.
Laurence Rossignol made the comments to RMC radio and BFM TV, igniting accusations of racism on Wednesday across social media as a petition was launched calling on the minister to resign.
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In just a few hours, the petition gathered more than 10,000 signatures.
Rossignol was a guest on a programme to discuss the Islamic fashion industry. She later said the use of the word Negro had been made in error, but stopped short of retracting the remark.
Many on social media pointed out that Rossignol previously founded an anti-racist coalition, SOS Racisme.
France has the largest Muslim minority in Europe and some of the continent’s most restrictive laws about expressions of faith in public. The veil was banned in 2011.
Elsewhere in the interview, the minister reportedly criticised those who made fashion items such as the so-called burqini, a modest swimsuit covering the head, arms and legs, as “irresponsible”.
Today, according to the 2015-2016 State of the Global Islamic Economy Report, Muslim consumers spend an estimated $230bn on clothing, a number that is projected to grow to $327bn by 2019 – larger than the current combined clothing markets of the UK ($107bn), Germany ($99bn), and India ($96bn).
Earlier this year, the Italian fashion house Dolce & Gabbana unveiled a new abaya and hijab collection aimed at Muslim women.
Here are some reactions to Rossignol’s observations:
What is France's obsession with the headscarf. It's quite simple, leave it up to women to decide & stop politicising it. #LaurenceRossignol
— Nomad 💚 (@simply_nomad) March 30, 2016
French Minister #LaurenceRossignol: Veiled Muslim women are like "niggers in favour of slavery". Shame on the President if she's not sacked
— Yasser Louati (@yasserlouati) March 30, 2016
— Aida Alami (@AidaAlami) March 30, 2016