Paris: French Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Monday slammed a New York Times article prompted by the debate over the burkini swimsuit in which French Muslim women complained of discrimination and even “persecution”.
The article, which appeared on Friday, painted an “unacceptable image of France because it is false,” Valls wrote in the French-language online edition of the Huffington Post.
New York Times reporter Lillie Dremaux solicited the views of European Muslim women on the burkini debate, distilling more than 1,000 comments for the article.
One respondent said she was “afraid of having to wear a yellow crescent on my clothes one day, like the Star of David for Jews not so long ago.”
Another said: “French Muslim women would be justified to request asylum in the United States… given how many persecutions we are subjected to.”
Valls objected “with the greatest vigour… that the journalist quotes women of the Muslim faith suggesting that their voices are muzzled, to depict France as oppressing them.”
The Socialist prime minister, who came under fire for saying last month that the burkini was “based notably on the enslavement of women,” reiterated his stance in the Huffington Post piece.
Blasting foreign media for accusing secular France of seeking to “undermine Muslims’ freedom to practise their faith,” he said: “It is precisely for freedom that we are fighting.”
Valls saw an “incredible reversal” in comments that he said presented the burkini as “an instrument of women’s liberation”, citing one respondent who said her sister “could finally play with her children on the beach instead of sitting in the shadow.”
Another said “wearing the veil does not mean being enslaved by a man… it means reappropriating the body and femininity.”
These women’s assertions suggest “complete acceptance of male domination”, Valls wrote.
“In France, we consider to the contrary that… women cannot be the subject of the slightest domination. And the idea that women should be removed from the public arena is indeed male domination,” he added.
The prime minister linked the promotion of the burkini to Islamist “proselytising”.
“It’s not an anodine swimming costume. It’s a provocation (of) radical Islamism that is on the rise and wants to impose itself in the public arena,” Valls wrote.
He said the “great majority of Muslims… do not recognise themselves in this proselytising minority that is exploiting their religion.”
In France, which counts a population of five million Muslims, burkinis are extremely rare and only a minority of Muslim women remain covered on beaches.
Valls said France was “proud that Islam is the country’s second religion. Millions of citizens of the Muslim faith or culture respect their duties perfectly and fully enjoy their duties.”
The burkini debate came as France has been rocked by a string of deadly attacks claimed by Islamic State militants.