That’s the tagline various news outlets used as a springboard this week to examine Laurence Rossignol’s remarks during an interview about the Islamic fashion industry: “Of course there are women who choose [to wear the veil]. There were African negroes, American negroes who were for slavery. I believe that these women, a lot of them, are militants for political Islam, and I confront them as militants...for the project for society that they represent.”
Reuters, an international news agency headquartered in London, appeared to lead the online chatter through their coverage of the instance in France: “French minister under fire for linking veil-wearing to slavery.” Below an image of the Minister giving a speech on equality earlier this month (which is either purposefully ironic, or a jab of sorts, at her public image), the piece indicates that Rossignol is a strong supporter of a France with distinct boundaries between religiosity and the public sphere – specifically as it concerns politics and education. Le Monde, a French newspaper, is referenced with a quote from Abdallah Zekri (president of the National Observatory on Islamophobia), emphasizing his disapproval of the Minister’s remarks, which implicitly seems to suggest that Reuters feels her remarks are Islamophobic. The article notes that such remarks also raise tensions about the wearing of “religious” garb and symbols in public, and sort of lumps Islam together with Catholicism and Judaism in this regard to demonstrate that these types of issues do not only pertain to Muslims. A “we’re all in this together” type of sentiment might be discerned by grouping these predominant “religious” traditions into the same area of concern.
Alternet takes a different sort of approach by highlighting some of the rhetorical dimensions of the Minister’s statements, and seeking a more responsible and professional response from Rossignol by leading with: “Thousands are demanding justice” after she “hurled a racist epithet against African-Americans” to “denigrate Muslim women.” In “French Minister Trashes Muslim Women With Anti-Black Slur. Will She Be Sacked?” Sarah Lazare notes (under a photograph from that same speech on equality) that Rossignol’s use of the French “nègres” is “particularly offensive” because of its antiquated, colonial connotations (the much less offensive “les noirs” or “les blacks,” Lazare notes, could have been used instead). It is equivalent to the English “negro” and arguably as offensive in such a context as “nigger.” These types of comments by Lazare certainly raise the Minister’s remarks from unprofessional and poorly chosen to outright racist and bigoted. Alternet does report Rossignol’s apology for using the particular term, but she never backpedals on her actual statements. The petition that is apparently going around, calling for more accountability and official action to be taken against her, is also quoted, placing a stronger emphasis on the underlying racism in her remarks and the need for it to be addressed. Before closing, Lazare also manages to sneak in remarks from Yasser Louati, a spokesperson for the Collective Against Islamophobia, correlating the burgeoning French “police state” with the United States Patriot Act, framing what is at stake here as a much larger issue when it comes to rights and democracy.
Al Jazeera’s "French minister shocks with Muslim veil-slavery comment" focuses more on the fashion industry that the Minister is criticizing and incorporates various responses from Twitter, drawing on the public reaction to her remarks more so than the other articles. The article is situated under an image of Rossignol with a rather mischievous look on her face and repeats some of the same statements that Lazare made (e.g., the petition and her weak apology). Rossignol’s previous work with an anti-racist coalition, SOS Racsime, is noted, which directs readers to recognize the apparent inconsistency in what she said during the interview. But, the coverage really shifts towards a more unique focus: the restrictive ban on “religious” garb and symbols (though Reuters did address this as well), the banning of the veil in 2011, and the Minister’s opinion that fashion items such as the burqini (a particular sort of swimsuit that accounts for modesty) are “irresponsible.” The really interesting tidbit near the end, however, relays how large the spending is by Muslims in the fashion industry – larger than the clothing markets in the United Kingdom, Germany, and India combined. Dolce & Gabbana has even gotten in on the marketability of the Minister’s so-called “irresponsible” articles of clothing. Rossignol’s remarks, then, seem to be framed as attacking a major economic presence, placing her on the opposite side of progress and cultural evolution that even clothing companies (regardless of the perceived source of revenue) are already negotiating.