Is promoting tolerance toward Muslims a public service?
Apparently not, in the opinion of Media Transports, the agency in charge of advertising in the Paris Metro, which carries some 4.5 million passengers each day.
The agency has rejected a campaign by the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) called "Nous sommes la Nation," or "We Are The Nation," aimed at combating prejudice toward Muslims and "fighting Islamophobia in France."
Media Transports says the posters, which were to be displayed in the corridors of the Paris Metro, are "religious and political" and therefore contradict the state-owned transit system's mission of public service and commitment to strict political and religious neutrality.
The CCIF disputes that, arguing that its message is not sectarian but rather an expression of support for the unity of all French citizens, regardless of their religious beliefs.
"Because a poster shows a religious sign, that does not mean it is denominational. On the contrary, our message is federative," Lila Charef, a legal adviser for CCIF, told AFP following Media Transports' decision.
A cropped segment of "The Tennis Court Oath" by Jacques-Louis David
Moreover, given rising discrimination and violence against French Muslims, the CCIF argues that fighting Islamophobia is a public service.
Speaking at the launch of its campaign, CCIF spokesman Marwan Muhammad said such acts have increased by more than 50 percent from 2010 to 2011.
"In 2011 we reported 298 acts of violence and discrimination, and 85 percent of these victims were women in the name of whom we are voting restrictive and excluding laws," Muhammad said.
In addition to the posters in the Paris Metro, the month-long CCIF campaign also includes radio and television advertisements.
The Paris Metro component was to consist of three posters.
One shows a woman wearing a head scarf and a man posing with two blond children. The caption reads: "A French family, 2012."
Another shows photos of men and women, one of whom is wearing a head scarf and another a veil. A third is a reinterpretation of the famous Jacques-Louis David painting "Serment du Jeu de paume," which depicts a key episode in the 1789 French Revolution. The poster incorporates veiled women, a man wearing a Christian priest's cassock and crucifix, and another identifiable as an Orthodox Jew.
Media Transport objected to the use of four French flags in the poster, which it claimed was an inappropriate use of the symbol of the nation to make "a political claim." The agency also objected to the slogan "We Are The Nation."
The agency's rejection of the CCIF campaign is not the first time in recent months it has rejected advertising in the Paris Metro.
In September, Media Transports rejected a poster advertising a TV series showing the back of a man wearing a cloth and held by a woman’s hand with red fingernail polish. The reason was that it represented a potentially offensive "sexual allusion."
Also based on material from the following French media: liberation.fr, la-croix.com, and lefigaro.fr