The French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has stoked the fierce debate over the burkini by saying that naked breasts are more representative of the country than a headscarf.
Manuel Valls said this during his speech at a government rally Monday night in which he hailed the bare breasts of Marianne, a national symbol of the French Republic.
Valls said: ‘Marianne has a naked breast because she is feeding the people! She is not veiled because she is free! That is the republic!’
He said bare breasts represent France more closely than the Muslim headscarf.
But he was criticised by opponents, who accused the PM historical illiteracy.
BBC reported that the PM has upset political rivals and historians by invoking the symbol of the French republic in the burkini row.
The PM’s statement was fiercely criticised by a number of feminists and historians, including Mathilde Larrère, who specialises in the history of the French revolution and citizenship at the University of Paris-Est.
She tweeted in response to Valls’ comments, “Marianne has a naked breast because it’s an allegory, you cretin!”, adding that it was created at a time when women were considered minors and denied the right to vote.
French historian, Nicolas Lebourg pointed out in the newspaper Liberation, that Valls might have been confusing Marianne with the earlier Delacroix painting, ‘Liberty leading the people’, dating back to 1830.
Some politicians noted that whilst Marianne’s breast was exposed, her head was in fact covered.
Manuel Valls has been an outspoken critic of the Muslim headscarf and he fell out with members of his own government after he showed support for those French mayors who imposed a ban on the burqini in over 30 towns in France.
The PM warned that despite France’s highest court ruling burqini bans illegal, the debate about was “not over”.