French prime minister Manuel Valls published an op-ed in the Huffington Post to decry a New York Times article, “The Way People Look At Us Has Changed’: Muslim Women on Life in Europe.” The prime minister insisted that the Times exposé “paints an intolerable picture, as it is false, of France, the country of lights and of liberties.” In the piece, French Muslim women described being persecuted, mistreated, and discriminated against because of their religious beliefs.
Claiming that the Times “giv[es] the floor to women of Muslim faith, claims that their voice would be smothered in France, so as to portray a France that oppresses them,” Valls asserted that “France has a very strong connection with Islam. It prides itself in Islam being the second religion of the country.” However, he then addressed the ongoing burkini-ban controversy:
“We must have open eyes to the growing influence of salafism, which contends that women are inferior and impure and that they must be sidelined. This was the question, absolutely not anecdotal, that was at the center of the debate around the burkini and the burqa. It is not an insignificant bathing suit. It is a provocation of radical Islam, which is emerging and wants to impose itself in the public space!”
Maintaining that the burkini ban amounts to “fighting for the freedom of women who should not have to live under the yoke of a chauvinist order,” Valls called any opposite argument an “unbelievable reversal.” He went on to emphasize the importance of secularism to France.
In a second article, “French Prime Minister Faults Times Article Giving Voice To Muslim Women,” the Times stood behind their previous article. “Our story was rigorously reported and based on responses by more than 1,200 readers to an online call-out in English, French and Arabic asking for the views of Muslim women in Europe after the burkini ban,” said Times spokesperson Danielle Rhoades Ha. “We stand by the article.”