France’s Prime Minister is fuming over a New York Times article that quotes French Muslim women saying they feel discriminated against in the country. “Women are free,” Manuel Valls wrote in a Huffington Post editorial, while adding that the burkini-style bathing suit favored by some Muslim women is “not an insignificant bathing suit” but “a provocation of radical Islam, which is emerging and wants to impose itself in the public space!”
France is embroiled in a huge argument over burkinis. French police recently forced a Muslim woman sitting on a beach to remove a coverup she was wearing as her daughter wept. The same week, France’s highest administrative court ruled that French mayors have no legal right to ban burkinis.
The September 2 Times story featured quotes from Muslim women across Europe, who wrote about being told to “go home” (even if they had been born in France), and a rising sense of anti-Muslim bias following terrorist attacks like those targeting the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
Not fair, cried Valls in his editorial, which was translated into English. France, he argues, is trying to save Muslim women from sexism, whether they like it or not:
We must have open eyes to the growing influence of salafism, which contends that women are inferior and impure and that they must be sidelined. This was the question, absolutely not anecdotal, that was at the center of the debate around the burkini and the burqa. It is not an insignificant bathing suit. It is a provocation of radical Islam, which is emerging and wants to impose itself in the public space!
He added that the “international press” doesn’t seem to understand that France is fighting for freedom and equality:
Constantly reading the international press, I have seen how a large number among them have hastily concluded that this is stigmatization, and an act against the freedom of Muslims to practice their religion. But come on! It is precisely for freedom that we are fighting.
We are fighting for the freedom of women who should not have to live under the yoke of a chauvinist order. The female body is neither pure nor impure; it is the female body. It does not need to be hidden to protect against some kind of temptation. See the unbelievable reversal: in the cited accounts, the burkini is presented as a tool of women’s liberation! We can read the following there: “When the burkini appeared, I was happy for my sister, who was on vacation and could finally play on the beach with her children rather than needing to stay in the shadows.” For another, to wear the veil signifies: “the reappropriation of the body and its femininity...” It’s masculine domination that has been completely integrated here!
The Times responded that Valls is mistaken about how the reporting for their piece was done. The quotes were gathered by issuing an open call for Muslim women in Europe to share their thoughts on veil restrictions. Valls, bafflingly, claimed that the quotes had all been collected at an event called a “decolonial summer camp,” an event held in France in late August for religious and ethnic minorities to discuss discrimination and tactics to counter it.
Valls somehow decided that the piece had been reported polling only participants from that event, writing:
This is not a field survey, allowing for different perspectives or nuance in the analysis. These accounts were for the most part obtained following a scandalous event organized in France: a “decolonization summer camp. A camp that — and this information has its own importance — was banned, I quote, to “people with white skin.”
Valls’ editorial also defends the French value of “secularism,” which, he says, “simply imposes a very clear separation between what belongs to the worldly and the spiritual.” And he said France loves Islam, as long as it’s the right kind:
France has its heart set on harboring modern Islam, true to its message of openness and tolerance. We protect our Muslim citizens against those who want to make scapegoats of them.
What all of this boils down to, somehow, is women not being able to wear the bathing suit of their choice on the beach.