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Visiting France

Beach woman in muslim veil stirs debate in France

media French MEP and former minister Nadine Morano. RFI

Politicians have joined a growing debate after a right-wing MEP posted a photo of a veiled woman on a French beach on social networks, accompanied by a commentary about sex equality.

Nadine Morano, who is a fervent supporter of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, published the photo on her twitter and facebook accounts on Monday.

It shows a woman wearing a muslim headscarf, viewed from the back, sitting on the sand. Juxtaposed is a photo of French film star Brigitte Bardot in the 1960s, lying on a beach in a bikini.

Morano says the photo was taken “on a beach in France, crowded with holiday-makers.”

She describes how a couple arrived on the beach, the man changed into his swimming gear and went into the sea, while the woman, wearing a long-sleeved tunic and trousers remained sitting, in her words “obediently on the beach.”

“Such a sight on French territory, in this, the country of human rights is infuriating!” she declares.

Morano goes on to say that such a scene is “an attack on our culture, on sex equality”.

“When you choose to come to France, a country which respects the rule of law, where religion and the state are separated, you should respect our culture and women’s liberty. If not, you go somewhere else!” she exclaims.

Morano concedes however  that the woman is doing nothing illegal.

Under French law, only full face-covering veils such as niqabs or burqas are banned in public places. Under a separate law, no visible religious symbol can be worn at work by any public service employee or by pupils in state-run schools.

The subject has created a buzz on social networks.

Abdallah zekri of the National Observatory against Islamophobia said Morano was “stigmatising islam”.

“I would say to him that it would be good if we created an observatory for the respect of French culture as well,” she retorted.

However, Morano’s fellow UMP parliamentarian Valérie Pécresse did not back her:
“You can dress however you like on beaches” she noted.

Socialist minister for European Affairs, Harlem Désir, was more supportive. “I can understand her reaction”, he said. “I have witnessed this sort of scene, not just in France but also in other countries, and I have always found it absurd.”

But he went on to point out that there was no law prohibiting headscarves where the face is visible in public places. He warned that “we must be careful not to go beyond respect for the law.”

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