A row over how freedom should be defined has broken out on French social media pages, after former minister Nadine Morano posted a picture of a woman sitting on a beach wearing a long sleeved tunic, trousers and headscarf on her Facebook page. Alongside the photo she suggested that it was a French woman’s “duty” to wear a bikini at the seaside.
Morano, who was Minister for Families in Nicholas Sarkozy’s centre-right government said “When you choose to come to a country of secular laws like France, you have an obligation to respect our culture and the liberty of women. Or you go somewhere else,” reports The Independent.
The comments provoked a storm, with opinions crossing party boundaries. Former Socialist Party leader Harlem Désir said that she “had a point” as beaches should be places of liberty for all. However, Valérie Pécresse, also a former centre-right minister disagreed, saying “As long as they’re not breaking the law, people should be allowed to wear whatever they want.”
The unnamed woman appearing in the photo was accompanied at the beach by a man, assumed to be her husband, who stripped to enjoy a dip in the waters.
Explaining the scene, which took place at a French resort, Morano wrote “The man got into his swimming trunks, showing off his well-made body, while she sat quietly on the sand dressed from head to toe. He went off alone towards the sea. Delighted to be having a swim, he waved to his submissive companion as she sat entirely surrounded by people in swimsuits. He had the right to strip off and swim, She didn’t. To see that in the country which invented human rights was exasperating!”
Others commenting on Facebook have questioned whether Morano was right to insist that everyone in France must conform to the native culture. Seby Vergara, writing in French, commented “I am French myself and when I go to Morocco I see French people going topless by the swimming pool.”
The public wearing of the full veil or niqab and the burka, which includes a face covering, were banned by the French Senate in 2010, in a law that also prohibited the wearing of other items that cover the face, such as balaclavas and helmets, when in a public place. There is no suggestion that the woman in the picture was breaking the law, as she was wearing a headscarf, not a veil.
Morano has been accused, along with some fellow centre right politicians, of trying to tack to the right of Marine Le Pen’s Front National, in an attempt to curb their growth by adopting anti-Islamic rhetoric.
However, Morano insisted that she was pro-women’s rights, not anti-Islam. Speaking in a radio interview she said “We have to help these submissive women. There is no point in pulling a veil over our own faces. No religion has the right to impede the progress which has been so dearly won in France.”