French minister faces calls to resign after 'negroes' comment

AFP / Philippe Huguen | A Muslim woman wearing gloves and a headscarf covers her face in the northern French city of Lille, on June 12, 2015.
3 min

France's minister for women's rights faced calls to resign Thursday after controversial remarks in which she compared Muslim women who choose to wear headscarves to "negroes in favour of slavery".


An online petition calling for Laurence Rossignol to step down racked up tens of thousands of signatures.

A Muslim community leader also accused her of helping to recruit for the Islamic State (IS) group with her controversial remarks.

Speaking to the AFP news agency, Abdallah Zekri, president of France’s National Observatory against Islamophobia, said It was as if she had "set out to help the recruiters of Daesh" with her remarks, using a pejorative Arabic term for the IS group.

The minister had "stigmatised" thousands of women, he added, and "spat in the face of the [secular] laws of the Republic by trying to interfere with the way women dressed".

Rossignol’s controversial remarks came as she was asked about the wave of major fashion chains that have followed the Italian designers Dolce & Gabbana in catering specifically to the Muslim market, creating lines of hajib headscarves and "burqini" full-body swimming costumes.

Such companies were “irresponsible” and guilty of “promoting the confinement of women’s bodies”, said Rossignol during the interview with France’s BFM TV.

When the interviewer pointed out that many Muslim women freely choose to adhere to conservative Islamic dress codes, Rossignol responded: “Of course there are women who choose it. There were American negroes who were in favour of slavery.”

The comments sparked an immediate backlash and an online petition urging Prime Minister Manuel Valls to punish the minister had collected some 20,000 signatures by Thursday afternoon.

‘Dangerous and irresponsible’

The row was also trending on Twitter across France with a hashtag #RossignolDemission (#RossignolResign) demanding that she step down.

The League of French Muslim Women also condemned her comments, calling them "dangerous and irresponsible" and reminding her that women who wear the veil and headscarf were the main victims of racist attacks in the street.

"It is all the more surprising because the government has just launched an (advertising) campaign against racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia," the league's statement added.

Rossignol, who is also minister of family and child matters, tried to row back on the comments made during a radio interview Wednesday.

She told AFP that the use of the word “negro” was a reference to an abolitionist tract by the French philosopher Montesquieu, "On the Enslavement of Negroes".

"Outside of this error of language, I am not retracting a single word I said" about Islamic dress, the minister added.

The gaff was also pounced on by satirists. Comedian Olivier Perrin joked that she would make a good campaign director for US presidential hopeful Donald Trump, who has drawn fire for his comments about women and Muslims.

Perrin had earlier posted a picture on Twitter of a hooded Ku Klux Klan member giving the Nazi salute with the caption: "Laurence Rossignol wishes you a good day."

The cartoonist of Le Monde daily, Plantu, also came in for criticism on social media for his take on the row, showing two headscarved women asking when they could get designer explosives belts.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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