Hugh Fitzgerald: Mind The Gap, Or Signs of Sanity in France

An advertisement this past summer for the clothing brand Gap shocked many in France.

The latest Gap ad campaign, “Back to school” features a little girl in a hijab, CNEWS France reports.

On 24 July, Gap Kids launched the “Back to school” ad campaign and on 31 July, the brand tweeted an ad which features a little girl in an Islamic veil.

This latest ad campaign wasn’t well received in France, a boycott was even launched. “I’ll never accept to see little girls in veils. I will never go to Gap”, tweeted Anne-Christine Lang, deputy of Onward.

A petition against the ad called “The veil is not child’s play” was also started on Change.org

“We are asking GAP in Europe to disassociate itself from the GapKids campaign, #GapToSchool, who dares to place a girl with a hijab in the middle of children from different cultures, as if the veil were a colorful dimension that adds to social diversity. The veil is not a fairy tale!…

“This campaign trivialises the wearing of the veil, it gives a joyful and fraudulent image. We do not stop progress: today veiled, sexually marked at 10 years, tomorrow prevented from playing sports and bathing without a veil, the day after tomorrow excised [genitals cut] and forcibly married?

“We ask GAP in Europe to comment on this sensitive issue and not use this type of sexist campaign to sell clothes,” the petition reads.

While the ad received mixed reviews in the United States, where it first appeared, in France it was received with fury. For as the French petition showed, Gap’s attempt to celebrate the hijab — as part of its “diversity” campaign — did not amuse or fool the French, who are keenly aware of its significance. And some Muslims who don’t care for the hijab also chimed in: “Dear @Gap @GapKids your attempts to ‘inclusiveness’ by normalizing ‘Child Hijab’ is disgusting. You’re literally supporting an act of child abuse,” said a post by Hanouf Mohammad on Twitter.

The French opponents of this hijab ad did not buy the idea that young girls decide for themselves to wear it. They understood it is imposed by adults, usually the parents, and furthermore, because it is an ostentatiously religious article of clothing, it violates the principles of France as a laic state.

If Gap wants to advertise in France, it should do so in a way that does not undermine the laws or values of France. In France, it should be remembered, it is forbidden to wear the hijab in schools. It’s a sign of health in the French body politic that so many were outraged by this hijabbed girl in the Gap ad.

The French correctly saw the inclusion of the hijabbed girl in the advertisement as an attempt to flaunt a supposedly cheerful “diversity” and to acclimate the larger public to the wearing of the hijab by young girls. But the French saw this ad campaign as trivializing an important issue, by giving “a joyful and fraudulent image” to what they know is only one in a series of impositions on Muslim girls and women by Muslim men. The French petitioners wrote scathingly about the “progress” that was being mendaciously imposed through these ads — the celebration of the wearing of the hijab — as being part of a possible series of other intrusive measures that Muslim girls must endure, from being sexually marked at 10 years by the wearing of the hijab (and perhaps, though it’s unclear, this is also meant as an allusion to Muhammad’s consummation of his marriage to Aisha when she was nine), to being prevented from playing sports, or going swimming, without a veil. The practice of clitoridectomy or female genital mutilation (FGM) is also mentioned (that procedure is inflicted on girls aged anywhere from a few days to fifteen years) and forced marriages, too, as if someday the Gap might make light of these practices. Exaggeration for effect. The French who rose in rage to declare that that hijabbed girl in the ad disgusted and sickened them, showed that they were not fooled, but were quite capable of spotting, and condemning, the smuggling in of a message that, as their petition said, “trivializes the wearing of the hijab.”

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