“Beauty is in diversity as freedom is in the hijab.” It is one of the slogans of a Council of Europe campaign against hate speech that called for “respect” for the use of the hijab and that lasted just a few days due to pressure from the French Government and the country’s extreme right, all in pre-campaign for the presidential election next spring. A spokesman for the Council of Europe said: “The tweets have been removed, and we are going to think about a better presentation of the project.”
“The tweets reflect statements made by individual participants in one of the project workshops, and not the views of the Council of Europe or its Secretary General [, Marija Pejcinovic Buric]”, according to the statement transferred to Politico, on the campaign against hate speech promoted by the division of inclusion and fight against discrimination of the Council of Europe.
The Council of Europe, a pan-European body not dependent on the EU and which brings together fifty countries, launched a human rights campaign to promote diversity among women, and their freedom to wear the Muslim headscarf, which It has been harshly contested by France, a country with deep-rooted secularism that is in deep debates about the use of the hijab, an issue often used politically by the extreme right.
The campaign, co-financed by the European Commission, was launched last week by the institution based in Strasbourg (France). The tweeted images showed portraits of two smiling young women split in half and fused together to show one bareheaded and the other in the hijab.
“The campaign is a project of the Council of Europe,” the Community Executive explained this Wednesday, “and is funded as part of the call for proposals on racism that was launched in 2019. The general objective is to combat hate speech on-line and offline, for example, against the Jewish and Muslim communities through the participation of youth and civil society organizations. The Commission is not involved in the evaluation of the individual components of the project, which benefit from EU grants, and has not validated the materials in question either. The Council of Europe plays the leading role when it comes to the implementation of the program. ”
According to the European Commission, “in general terms, the grant agreement signed on December 9, 2019, amounts to 340,000 euros. But that is not only for this campaign, it is for the campaign in general, not only for tweets.”
“Beauty is in diversity like freedom in the hijab,” read one of the slogans. “How boring it would be if they all looked the same. Celebrate diversity and respect the hijab,” the campaign declared.
The Macron government intervened, acknowledging that it had urged the Council of Europe to withdraw the campaign. France is one of the 47 member states of the Council, an institution in charge of ensuring the European Convention on Human Rights.
“This campaign in general is about combating hate speech on-line and offline, so it empowers, for example, young people and NGOs to do more in this regard, “says Brussels:” The Commission does not promote any religious dress. And we are not involved in evaluating individual materials for projects that receive grants. We have not validated them. The beneficiaries carry out these projects independently and in accordance with the grant agreements, and the Commission assesses the results after the tasks are completed. ”
“I am deeply shocked,” French Youth Minister Sarah El Hairy told LCI TV. “It is the opposite of the values that France defends, it is promoting the use of the hijab.”
“This must be condemned and that is why France has made clear its strong disapproval and therefore the campaign has withdrawn as of today,” he said Tuesday night, confirming the official French protest.
The campaign, which had initially gone unnoticed, gained relevance as it was used by the anti-European extreme right and French anti-immigration.
“Islam is the enemy of freedom. This campaign is the enemy of truth,” tweeted far-right populist Eric Zemmour, who flirts with his candidacy, and who according to some polls could reach a runoff against Macron.
Zemmour was convicted in 2018 of hate speech based on religion after he said that France “has been invaded for the last 30 years” by Muslims.
“This European campaign promoting the Islamist veil is scandalous and indecent at a time when millions of women are bravely fighting this slavery,” added far-right leader Marine Le Pen, Macron’s main rival at the polls in 2017.
“Remembering that women are free to wear the hijab is one thing,” said Socialist Senator Laurence Rossignol, “but saying that freedom is in the hijab is another. They are promoting it. Is this the role of the Council of Europe? “.