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The New Arab

French minister: Hijabis like 'negroes who supported slavery'

The minister defended her comments [AFP]

Date of publication: 31 March, 2016

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A French minister on Wednesday caused outrage by comparing Muslim women who wear the hijab to 'negroes who supported slavery'.

A French government minister on Wednesday compared women who wear the hijab to "negroes who supported slavery".

Families minister Laurence Rossignol, sparked outrage on social media with her comment that came after former fashion mogul Pierre Berge lashed out at designers creating Islamic clothing and headscarves, accusing them of taking part in the "enslavement of women".

Berge, the partner of the late fashion legend Yves Saint Laurent, took aim at the wave of big fashion chains that have followed the Italian designers Dolce & Gabbana in catering specifically to the Muslim market.

Rosssignol, who is also responsible for women's rights, maintained she was referring to an abolitionist tract by the French philosopher Montesquieu, "On the Enslavement of Negroes", when she made her controversial comments to BFMTV and RMC radio.

The minister admitted later to AFP that she had made "an error of language" by using the n-word. "But other than that... I don't take back a word," the socialist minister said.

While France - home of Europe's biggest Muslim population - bans face-covering veils, some of its big fashion houses were among the first to tentatively embrace Muslim-specific style.

DKNY, owned by French giant LVMH, pioneered the "modest clothing" trend with a "capsule collection" aimed at the Middle East for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan two years ago.

In January, Dolce & Gabbana became the first major western brand to directly aim at capturing a corner of the Islamic fashion market - estimated to be worth $260 billion (230 billion euros) - with its Abaya range.

Its collection of 14 abayas or ankle-length dresses, which it matched with embroidered headscarves and hijabs, was broadly praised at the time.

The Swedish high street chain H&M followed their lead, using a veiled Muslim women in its advertising campaign, with the Japanese brand Uniqlo earlier this month announcing it would begin selling hijabs in its London stores.

The British brand Marks & Spencer has also put its toe in the water, marketing full-body "burqini" swimming costumes in its online store.

Last summer Zara, Tommy Hilfiger, Oscar de la Renta and Mango all launched varyingly "modest" collections to coincide with Ramadan.

Agencies contributed to this report

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