(RNS) — A diversity campaign designed to counter discrimination against European Muslim women who wear the hijab has been brought to a halt after sparking backlash in France.
The Council of Europe, an intergovernmental human rights organization, said its campaign grew out of efforts by Muslim youth organizations in Europe to build respect for Muslim women amid increased Islamophobia. “Celebrate diversity & respect hijab” read one slogan, promoted under the hashtag #WECAN4HRS” Another image shared online featured a European woman of African heritage with the tagline “My Headscarf, My Choice.”
But in France, where full-face coverings such as burqas or niqabs were banned in public places in 2010, outcries against the campaign were swift.
“This is to be condemned and because of this France made clear its extremely strong disapproval and hence the campaign has now been withdrawn as of today,” said Sarah El Haïry, the ministry of education’s state secretary for youth. The French government lodged an official protest with the Council of Europe prior to the campaign.
Earlier this year a European Union institution ruled that European companies could ban women from wearing the hijab under certain circumstances.
A Council of Europe spokesperson told the BBC the organization had taken down the campaign tweets, “while we reflect on a better presentation of the project.”
“The tweets reflected statements made by individual participants in one of the project workshops, and do not represent the views of the Council of Europe or its Secretary General, Marija Pejcinovic Buric,” the spokesperson said.
With French presidential elections scheduled, far-right politicians and potential candidates seized on the campaign.
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Political commentator Eric Zemmour, a potential presidential candidate and immigration hawk, referred to the campaign as “the veiling of Europeans.” And Marie Le Pen, a former presidential candidate with the far-right National Rally, called the campaign “scandalous and indecent.” Though Le Pen no longer heads the party she remains a member of the national assembly and an influential politician.
The slogans and the campaign grew out of two online workshops held in September and organized in collaboration with the Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organizations, a group that represents 33 different youth organizations across 20 European countries and has worked with the Council of Europe for over 10 years.
“Everyone should be free to wear what they want. Muslim women are restricted from wearing the hijab and excluded from the workplace and education,” FEMYSO said in a series of tweets, pointing out that the individual rights of Muslim women across Europe are being compromised and making note of a recent reported case in the Spanish city of Guadalajara where a local student has been told she would have to remove her hijab or leave the school.