France’s first female Education Minister placed herself firmly at the centre of the controversy around the string of “burkini bans” in the country when she spoke out in strong terms against the restrictions.[caption id="attachment_13314" align="aligncenter" width="750"] File photos of how Najat Vallaud-Belkacem looked when she was younger[/caption]
Moroccan-born Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, who describes herself as a “non-practicing Muslim”, described the prohibition of burkinis as “a threat to individual freedoms”.
Speaking to French radio channel E1 Matin, the politician said that while she was against women being forced to wear the burkini, she strongly opposed the bans on modest swimwear that have swept across French cities and communes during this summer.
[caption id="attachment_13315" align="alignright" width="408"] File photo of Moroccan-born Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, who describes herself as a “non-practicing Muslim” Reuters[/caption]
“If you’re asking me in a general context whether I’m for or against the burkini, the response is simple: I oppose the burkini. I think you know my feminist convictions and know that my dream is a society where women are free to do what they like,” she said.
“But if you ask me whether I agree with the polemic against the burkini in the past week, the response is no. Definitely not.”
Vallaud-Belkacem continued: “I think at this serious time, post-attacks, when many French people are worried, you shouldn’t add fuel to the fire. You should be appeasing people as much as possible, not stigmatising them. The ban of the burkini puts into question people’s individual freedoms.”[caption id="attachment_13316" align="aligncenter" width="589"] Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, right before attending a meeting in Brussels Reuters[/caption]
Her words provoked a vicious backlash from the French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who said the comments were “a bad interpretation” of the ban, insisting the measures were “taken in the name of public order”.