France’s Minister for Family and Women’s Affairs this week lambasted fashion houses for proposing Islamic clothing for women. Laurence Rossignol said it is “irresponsible” for major brands like Marks & Spencer’s to promote the “confining of women’s bodies.” At question is everything from the ‘burkini’ bathing suit to high-end head scarves.
Rossignol, in a reference to the ‘house-slave, said women who wear Islamic clothing are like “American Negros who supported slavery”; a statement which led to the minister being called a “racist.” But Rossignol got strong support when philosopher, lawyer and 1970s women’s rights activist, Elizabeth Badinter, called on French women to boycott labels that sell Islamic clothing. “You can’t be a feminist and defend the veil,” she said.
France has a law that bans the wearing in public of Islamic clothing which hides the face but not the head scarf which is becoming a battleground question for Islam’s place in France. Hard line Islam has turned into an identity reference for Muslim youth in the French projects known as “les banlieues” who have failed to integrate and exert enormous pressure on women to conform
“Forget the mollah. Have some convictions!” said the co-founder of fashion house Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Bergé. “Fashion designers are here to make women beautiful.” Bergé said he is scandalized that creators would do Islamic fashion, accusing them of being “accomplices to a dictatorship which imposes this abominable thing that leads to hiding women.”
Bergé called on major labels to help women “learn to undress, learn to revolt, learn to live like women today.”
Meanwhile, Air France hostesses are protesting their company’s order that they wear the Islamic headscarves when their planes begin landing in Tehran once again on April 17th. The Air France direction distributed a memo to its personnel saying women should “wear trousers during the flight, a large vest and a scarf to cover their hair when they leave the plane.” Air France says only “volunteers” will fly to Iran, as if that somehow makes it OK.
Neither Marks & Spencer’s, Uniqlo, Dolce & Gabbana nor Air France, see a problem. For these companies and others, it is just business. Yet, one of the debates concerning integration in France, is how young Salafist-influenced thugs in heavily Muslim quarters harass and mistreat women who do not wear a headscarf.
A woman of North African descent entered a Kebab place round the corner from my house and was asked harshly “why isn’t your head covered?” When she responded because she is in France, not Algeria, the men told her “soon you will be forced to wear it here too!” I live in an upscale, non-immigrant neighborhood.
A generation ago, it was rare to see a Muslim woman in school or university wearing a head scarf. Not so today. Those who do it voluntarily are making a political statement which says ‘we reject secular France.’ And this phenomenon is growing. So-called “progressives” who do not see this as a political statement of rejection of France’s secular republican values are deluding themselves.
“As long as immigration continues,” American journalist Christopher Caldwell told the French daily Le Figaro, “favoring the inevitable establishment of Islam in France, Muslim authorities have no interest in compromising.”
Integration, like the fight against Islamic terrorism, can only be successful if the Muslim population get behind it. For the moment, there is no mass movement, neither of women trying to break free from backwards and oppressive practices, nor to denounce the terror attacks. That is why Rossignol, Badinter and Bergé are jumping into the breach.