Maryam Pougetoux, a nineteen-year-old Muslim student who appeared in a documentary wearing a Hijab was portrayed as a monkey in Charlie Hebdo magazine. President of the students’ union at Paris’ Sorbonne University, Pougetoux was seen in the documentary, speaking about the various student protests that were happening in the country against the French president’s educational reforms. Not just Charlie Hebdo but the country itself started spewing hate on the student because she was seen wearing a hijab (the Muslim headscarf). In an interview, given to Buzzfeed News, Pougetoux said ‘It is my faith. I shouldn’t have to justify myself.’
The Charlie Hebdo cartoon showed Pougetoux with a monkey’s face in a hijab. The cartoon’s thought bubble read, ‘they chose me to head the UNEF (French National Student Union).’ She is shown with spit spurting out of her mouth.
Marlene Schiappa, the country’s Equality Minister called it a ‘form of promotion of political Islam.’ Unef, the students’ union was asked to tell people ‘what values it wants to promote, clearly and coherently,’ by the Equality Minister. Even as the cartoon was called out on social media, Interior Minister Gérard Collomb said that Pougetoux’s hijab was a ‘provocation’ and ‘shocking.’ Pougetoux said that it was rather ‘pathetic’ for a minister to have made such remarks. Pougetoux has also been targeted on social media and is receiving hate messages after her phone number was shared online.
It is not the first time that France’s or Hebdo’s Islamophobia is making news. In 2004, France had banned hijab in its schools and some public buildings. It remains legal in universities. In 2010 they banned niqab – a face covering strip of cloth in Islam. In 2011, France became the first European country to ban hijab in public places. in 2016, French police officers were seen in a photograph asking a Muslim woman to remove her swimsuit because it covered her skin, much like a burqa. The swimsuit, called ‘burqini’ was also banned in many towns by France. The country has about five million Muslims and is the largest Muslim minority in Western Europe.
After the Barcelona attack in August 2017, Charlie Hebdo published a cartoon that mocked Islam calling it a religion of peace alongside pictures of dead victims in the attack.
The French President’s educational reforms that the students including Pougetoux are opposing, will see plans to give public universities the power to set admission criteria for basic degree courses for the first time. The present policy guarantees graduates a place at a public university. The students’ unions are protesting this move by the government. The student union has said that the attack on Pougetoux is a manifestation of ‘racist, sexist and Islamophobic hatred’.