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Muslims face 'systematic hostile environment' in Europe, say students

UNEF President Pougetoux has been criticised by French ministers - for wearing the headscarf [Getty]

Date of publication: 24 May, 2018

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Leading Muslim student groups slam 'systematic hostile environment' created against students as French ministers criticise student union leader Pougetoux on the way she dresses.

Muslim student leaders across Europe have hit back at the "hostile environment" created by French politicians and media.

Student leaders from across the UK-based National Union of Students (NUS), the Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organisations (FEMYSO), the Etudiants Musulmans de France (EMF) and the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) released a press statement late Wednesday condemning comments from French Ministers against a Student Union leader in Paris.

French ministers have attacked Maryam Pougetoux - a Student Union Leader at Paris' Sorbonne University - after she appeared in a documentary around student protests, wearing a headscarf.

France's Interior Minister Gerard Collomb personally criticised Pougetoux's appearance, describing her choice of attire as a "provocation" that he found "shocking".

The French Equality Minister Marlene Schiappa said it was a "form of promotion of political Islam", adding that the students' union Unef "should tell us what values it wants to promote, clearly and coherently".

The statement, signed by student leaders from NUS, FEMYSO, EMF and FOSIS, described the incident as "indicative of the experiences of hundreds of Muslim student leaders across Europe".

Speaking to The New Arab, Ali Milani, vice-president of NUS and a Labour councillor said he is not surprised by the comments.

"This is part of a systematic hostile environment that has been created all across western Europe for Muslim students leaders who find themselves constantly under attack from the media, from their own government, from civil societies for sticking their heads above the parapet engaging the public life, contributing to the public discourse," he said.

"We are calling on all governments, on all civil societies and members of the press to fight against the increasing Islamophobic culture of our political spaces and to take real action towards making a contribution to public life more accessible to all."

Notorious French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo chimed in the debate yesterday by depicting Pougetoux as a covered monkey saying, "they chose me to head the UNEF (French National Student Union)".

Nineteen-year-old Pougetoux has been subjected to hate messages since appearing in a documentary talking about student protests against the French president's educational reforms.

Students began demonstrating in March over plans to give public universities power to set admission criteria for the first time - a move away from the current policy which guarantees all students a place at public universities.

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