Council of Europe ‘Freedom Is in Hijab’ Twitter Campaign Dropped After French Backlash

n Iraqi veiled woman covers her face with her hand, March 9, 2005 in Baghdad, Iraq. As violence and religious extremism flourishes in the Iraqi society more women find themselves under pressure to put on the Hijab headscarf. (Photo by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad/Getty Images)
Ghaith Abdul-Ahad/Getty Images

The Council of Europe had dropped its pro-hijab Twitter campaign after a backlash in France, with French politicians saying it conflicted with the country’s secular values and that it promoted Islamism and the enslavement of women.

The Council of Europe’s campaign endorsing women wearing the hijab included campaign posters of a woman whose one half was bare-headed and the other covered in an Islamic headscarf with the headline: “Beauty is in diversity as freedom is in hijab.”

“How boring would the world be if everyone would look the same? Celebrate diversity and respect hijab,” it commanded, according to the BBC.

Another poster shared on Twitter showed an African-heritage woman with a full headscarf and the headline: “My headscarf, my choice.”

“Bring joy and accept hijabs,” another demanded.

The Times reports that the European Union co-financed the campaign.

The campaign provoked anger in France, which prompted the Council of Europe to delete the tweets. French politicians criticised the message, saying it conflicted with the French Republic’s fiercely defended secular principles, known as laïcité, with Youth Minister Sarah El Haïry condemning the campaign for “encouraging the wearing of the hijab”.

Ms El Haïry added that the French government “conveyed its extremely strong disapproval” which she credited for bringing about “the withdrawal of this campaign”.

The condemnation was widespread across the political spectrum, with former Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier saying: “I would have wanted the people who had the bad idea of this campaign to have asked the women of (Taliban-ruled) Kabul who are fighting precisely not to have this veil.”

Presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, who leads the right-wing National Rally party, condemned the post for promoting Islamism, saying: “This European communication in favour of the Islamist veil is scandalous and indecent as millions of women courageously fight against this enslavement, including in France.

“It is when women remove the veil that they become free, not the other way around!”

Fellow right-wing presidential candidate Eric Zemmour, who is running a tight race in the polls with Le Pen to challenge Emmanuel Macron to lead the French Republic in next year’s election, said: “This campaign is the enemy of truth. It promotes the veiling of Europeans. It is publicity jihad financed by your taxes.”

“A reminder that women are free to wear the hijab is one thing. Saying that freedom is in the hijab is another,” said Socialist Senator Laurence Rossignol.

Criticism came from outside France as well, with Canadian anti-hijab activist Yasmine Mohammed saying: “Hijab is the antithesis of freedom. Hijab restricts.

“Hijab is the opposite of diversity. It strips a woman of her individuality.”

Recent years have seen the rise of World Hijab Day, celebrated on February 1st to promote the wearing of the Islamic headscarf and encourage non-Muslim women and non-hijab-wearing Muslim women to “experience the hijab”.

Last year, the event was criticised by Middle East scholar A. J. Caschetta last year for dishonouring women subjected to Islamic modesty culture who are forced to cover up.

On Wednesday, a spokesman for the Council of Europe told the BBC that the tweets had been deleted “while we reflect on a better presentation of this project”.

Secretary-General of the Council of Europe Marija Pejcinovic Buric said that the individual messages posted about the hijab “reflected the statements made individually by participants in one of the workshops of the project and do not represent the position of the Council of Europe”.

The Council of Europe is one of the continent’s oldest political organisations and contains nearly 50 members, stretching from Russia to Greenland, and from Scandinavia to the Balkans, Turkey, and the Caucasus. While not affiliated with the European Union, it is partly funded by Brussels.

The Council of Europe is considered the continent’s top human rights organisation as it is the home of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) which enforces the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), to which all EU member-states adhere.

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