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The errors of the Council of Europe

On October 28, a campaign endorsed by the Council of Europe and the European Union appeared on social networks (Twitter and Tik Tok in particular), officially intended to fight discrimination against veil-wearing Muslim women. But when reading the messages, it quickly becomes clear that this campaign also promotes the wearing of the Islamic veil, presented as the expression of women’s freedom. One reads: “beauty is in diversity as freedom is in hijab”. The campaign’s similarity to the discourse of the Muslim Brotherhood is evident, which claims as the only freedom for Muslim women, that of wearing the veil. In fact, the researcher Florence Bergeaud-Blackler, in a well-documented article published on November 3 in French weekly Le Point, reveals the names of the associations that have contributed to the workshop by the anti-discrimination and inclusion division of the Council of Europe, all of which are in the Brotherhood movement: Forum of European Muslim Youth and Students (FEMYSO) and European Forum of Muslim Women, a women’s group of the UOIE.

While European countries are currently welcoming Afghan women who had to flee their country to be able to study, work and live freely, is it conceivable to welcome them with this slogan, which is at the very least indecent in the circumstances: “freedom is in the hijab”?

What contempt also for all these women who are going through difficult days in European countries as well as everywhere in the world because they refuse to wear it! What ignorance of the pressures to force them to conform to this rigorist conception of religion!

Several political leaders have spoken out against the promotion of the hijab by this campaign, including French Senator Laurence Rossignol, former Secretary of State for Equality, Manuel Valls, former Prime Minister, and MEP François-Xavier Bellamy.

The French Secretary of State for Youth and Engagement, Sarah El Haïry, spoke out against this campaign which was finally removed from social networks and the Council of Europe’s website. Nevertheless, this episode reveals three important points for the future of the cohesion of our societies.

  1. The Islamist lobbies that seek to isolate Muslims and make them live in the observance of a rigorous Islam by surfing on their need for identity affirmation are very much listened to, both in the Council of Europe and in the European Union. Their interlocutors mistake them for representatives of the Muslim civil society (which does not exist practically and therefore has no representatives) whereas they are only a minority of very well organized activists.
  2. A large number of elected or functional leaders of the Council of Europe and the European Union are unable to distinguish a discourse that is really carrying European values, from a propaganda discourse that hijacks the words of freedom and equality to fight against these very values.
  3. They ignore the appeal of a very well-orchestrated Islamist propaganda and therefore totally underestimate the danger of seeing a growing number of people isolate themselves from the rest of society and join communities closed in on themselves, and traumatized by a well-crafted narrative locking them in victim status.

However, there are two positive points to note: firstly, that the media reception of this campaign was quasi unanimously critical, which may lead one to believe that the vigilance of the media has sharpened with time. The second positive point is that France’s strong protest led to the withdrawal of the incriminated visuals, which we hope will be replaced by others, this time authentically oriented towards tolerance and acceptance of diversity, all diversity.

Martine Cerf – Egale