It only took a few hours on social media before an avalanche of political reactions swept in. A campaign celebrating diversity and “Freedom in the hijab” launched by the Council of Europe, indeed triggered strong criticism in France on Tuesday, November 2, leading the organization, watchman of human rights on the continent, to withdraw it the same evening.
This is precisely the message in English, accompanying the portraits of several young women veiled on only one half of the face, claiming « beauty is in diversity as freedom is in hijab » (“Beauty is in diversity as freedom is in the hijab”), which is at the origin of the reactions of political figures both on the far right and on the left of the French political field and of government intervention.
A campaign described as “indecent” and “propaganda”
Broadcast since Thursday, October 28, the campaign launched by the Council of Europe’s Program for Inclusion and the Fight against Discrimination and co-funded by the European Union (EU) had so far gone unnoticed.
On the far right, however, it sparked an uproar on Tuesday. Marine Le Pen, candidate for the National Rally (RN), reacted with a tweet in the early afternoon : “This European communication in favor of the Islamist veil is scandalous and indecent. It is when women remove the veil that they become free, not the other way around! ” For the sovereignist deputy Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, who also spoke on Twitter, “This is not a propaganda campaign of the Muslim Brotherhood but of the Council of Europe”. The polemicist Eric Zemmour, probable presidential candidate, has, him, denounced a “Publicity jihad” and affirmed that “Islam is the enemy of freedom”.
At the Les Républicains (LR) party, the campaign also generated strong reactions. Presidential candidate Valérie Pécresse, also president of the Ile-de-France region, said in a tweet therefore “Stupor”, believing that the veil was not “Not a symbol of freedom but of submission”. His competitor for the party’s nomination for the 2022 presidential election, Eric Ciotti, deputy for the Alpes-Maritimes, denounced a “Promotion of the Islamic veil” and an “Negation of our Judeo-Christian roots”. The leader of LR senators, Bruno Retailleau, meanwhile estimated that the Council of Europe was promoting “Openly submission to Islamist mores”.
The campaign also reacted on the left, the former minister of women’s rights and support for the presidential candidacy of Arnaud Montebourg, the socialist senator Laurence Rossignol estimating in a post that “Remember that women are free to wear the hijab (in accordance with the laws of each member state, in France that of 1905 and 2004) is one thing. To say that freedom is in the hijab ” amounts to “Promote it”. The former prime minister and former member of the PS, Manuel Valls, has judged the campaign fight against discrimination “Shocking, bewildering and dangerous”.
France has “expressed its disapproval” and allowed the withdrawal
Within the government, it was the Secretary of State in charge of youth, Sarah El Haïry, who said, after the withdrawal of the post from the campaign by the Council of Europe Tuesday evening on LCI, that France had “Expresses his extremely strong disapproval” allowing by “His diplomatic networks” exactly “The withdrawal of this campaign from [mardi] ».
“These tweets have been removed and we are going to think about a better presentation of this project”, confirmed in a press release sent to Agence France-Presse the Council of Europe, the pan-European organization based in Strasbourg. They “Were part of a joint project” of the Council and the European Union “Whose objective was to raise awareness of the need to respect diversity and inclusion and to combat all types of hate speech”, justified the Council of Europe. Tweets “Reflected the statements made individually by participants in one of the workshops of the project and do not represent the position of the Council of Europe or of its Secretary General”, Marija Pejcinovic Buric, again assured the instance.
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Council of Europe campaign celebrating diversity and “freedom in the hijab” withdrawn