It is a French woman’s duty to wear a bikini on a beach, says the former minister for families, Nadine Morano.
Ms Morano, 51, has provoked a political row by complaining that she had seen a Muslim woman sitting on a French beach in headscarf, long-sleeved tunic and trousers while her husband stripped off and bathed in the sea.
“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,” Ms Morano wrote on her Facebook page.
She published a blurred picture that she had taken at the weekend of the woman in the headscarf sitting on a beach. Alongside, she published a photograph of the 1950s and 1960s sex symbol Brigitte Bardot wearing a bikini.
Ms Morano is a centre-right politician, and fervent supporter of ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has been accused of exploiting far-right themes in the past. Her remarks provoked an avalanche of comments on social media and reactions from politicians which sometimes crossed normal party boundaries.
The former leader of the Socialist party, Harlem Désir, said that Ms Morano “had a point”. A beach should, he said, be a place of liberty for all, he said. Another centre-right former minister, Valérie Pécresse, criticised Ms Morano’s definition of “freedom”. “As long as they’re not breaking the law, people should be allowed to wear whatever they want,” she said.
The Communist politician Ian Brossat said it was clear that “xenophobia never goes on holiday, even on the beach”.
Ms Morano said that she had witnessed the incident at an unnamed French resort.
“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,” she wrote. “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!”
One blogger, Fouzia Rakza Bouzaoui, said that Ms Morano should “worry about the 20,000 sexual assaults in France every year (that’s only the number reported) rather than talking about the submission of a woman she does not even know and who might have made this choice herself.”
Reactions in the comments section of the photo on Facebook have been mixed, with some questioning why Ms Morano felt the need to post the image in the first place.
Seby Vergara, orginally writing in French, said: "What shocks me is not this photo. It is that this 'politician' is permitted to post [this image] of an innocent woman. Without a doubt the mother of a family/a citizen. What gives her the right to judge?"
He added: "I am French myself and when I go to Morocco I see French people going topless by the swimming pool," suggesting that he believed Ms Morano was being hypocritical by demanding that immigrants have "an obligation to respect [French] culture".
The president of the National Observatory against Islamophobia, Abdallah Zekri, said that Ms Morano was playing on the confusion between Islamic headscarves and full-length veils like burkas. Both are referred to by the same word, voile. Only full-length veils which obscure the face are banned under French law. “How is wearing a headscarf on a beach not respecting the laws of the Republic?” he asked.
Ms Morano is one of a group of politicians in the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire who have been accused of trying to resist the rise of Marine Le Pen’s far-right Front National by borrowing – or even outdoing – their anti-Islamic rhetoric.
In a radio interview she insisted that she was making an argument for women’s rights not an argument against Islam. “We have to help these submissive women,” she said. “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.”