French Muslim minister wants respect after insults

France’s new education minister called for more respect on Wednesday after being the target of Muslim insults, while a senior socialist politician said a magazine should be found guilty of inciting racial hatred for calling his religion and ethnicity a “provocation”.

Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, a 36-year-old rising star of the Socialist Party, said she had been the target of racially-motivated verbal attacks over the past week, including being labeled “Ayatollah” by a weekly conservative.

“I call for respect,” she said The Associated Press in an email. “And I repeat in particular that racism is not an opinion, but a crime.”

Born in Morocco, Ms. Vallaud-Belkacem, who does not speak publicly about her religion, is seen as an easy target to attack the unpopular socialist government led by President François Hollande.

She is a young Muslim woman in a political landscape composed mainly of white men and Catholics. She is a strong advocate for gender and racial equality, and supported a divisive law legalizing same-sex marriage last year. She also intervened in a national debate on the negative impact of halal meat, saying that society should stop pointing fingers at Muslims.

A conservative politician called Ms Vallaud-Belkacem a “smiling Vietnamese Communist” and a fake ID appeared on social media, falsely claiming she changed her name from Claudine Dupont to a more ethnic one to be promoted .

A senior Socialist Party official threatened legal action against Minute magazine, which in its latest edition qualifies its religious and ethnic origin as a “provocation”. The official, Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, said the magazine should be sentenced for inciting racial hatred.

Minute, who has sympathies for France’s far-right party, the Front National, was accused of racism last year when he put black Justice Minister Christiane Taubira on the cover with the wording “Taubira finds his banana”.

Ms Taubira tweeted in support of Ms Vallaud-Belkacem: “They must have nothing in their heads, be empty in their hearts, and have a hardened soul. Najat, you fly high with our ambitions for schools. Thank you.”

Current valuesThe cover, which will be released on Thursday, features the headline “Ayatollah” on a grim photo of the minister’s face. The managing director of the publication said the reference to Islam was purely coincidental despite an outcry that it was racist and said the criticism was purely political.

“We are talking about ‘Ayatollah’ without any reference to the Muslim religion … We fear that her appointment poses a problem because she pursues an ideology in schools that worries us,” Yves de Kerdrel told the PA without elaborating.

Government spokesman Stéphane Le Foll said: “You can disagree. But we cannot accept these kinds of attacks.

France has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe, estimated at 5 million.

The French group for the defense of rights, SOS Racisme, has published a petition in its defense, which has been signed by more than 4,000 people.

Some commentators insist that criticism of her has nothing to do with religion or her gender.

“She just doesn’t have any education skills.” said the deputy mayor of Versailles, François-Xavier Bellamy.


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