The great burqa/niqab/hijab debate

To ban or not to ban? And what to ban?

From the Independent:

The parliamentary leader of the ruling French party is to put forward a draft law within two weeks to ban the full-body veil from French streets and all other public places.

Extreme? Right-wing? The article continues:

Some senior figures on the left have supported the idea of a legal ban. So has Fadela Amara, a left-wing campaigner for the rights of Muslim women who entered Mr Sarkozy's government in 2007 as minister for urban development.

Most moderate Islamic leaders have sharply criticised the burqa but suggested that it was such a limited phenomenon in France that legislation was unnecessary and might alienate moderate Muslims.

The burqa, per se, is an Afghan tradition allowing a woman only a narrow gauze-covered eye-opening. It is little found in France. The Arab equivalent, the niqab, which has a narrow opening at eye-level, is only slightly more common.

A study by the French internal security services last year suggested that the total number of women wearing both types of full-body veil in France was around 2,000 -- out of a total French population of adult, Muslim women of about 1,500,000.

Two questions immediately come to mind:

1) In the middle of the worst economic crisis in living memory, how can France's ruling conservative party justify focusing its legislative energies on banning an item of clothing worn by 0.1 per cent of the French population of adult Muslim women (or 0.003 per cent of the French population as a whole)?

2) Why did the "French internal security services" commission a study on the burqa/niqab? Is it now deemed to be a national security risk? Do French intelligence agencies have nothing better to do with their time? No other threats to deal with, apart from 2,000 Muslim women with covered faces?

Then there is the matter of the clothing itself and distinguishing between the various types. I'm no fan of the burqa or the niqab myself, and have yet to be convinced of the Islamic legal reasoning behind either garment, but I do recognise the difference between the burqa and the niqab, on the one hand, and the hijab on the other.

Does Yasmin Alibhai-Brown? In her short comment piece on the Indie's news story, and in support of the French ban, she writes:

The use of the burqa has grown like a virus across the continent. Children as young as four are now dressed in hijab.

I like Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. I admire her columns and the clarity and passion of her arguments, even if I don't always agree with her. But if even she cannot distinguish between the burqa and the hijab, two very different garments, how then can she criticise journalists and politicians, on other occasions, for misunderstanding Islam and Muslims?

Yasmin says she endorses the French approach:

I don't like the way the French state or its right-wing parties operate but sometimes there are some good unintended consequences.

I would ask her: isn't this exactly what pro-war liberal lefties said when they got into bed with George W Bush over the Iraq war and the removal of Saddam? And we all know how that turned out . . .

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

Getty
Show Hide image

Constitutional expert: Scottish independence “sweet deal” for EU

The remaining member states know a bargaining chip when they see one. 

An independent Scotland could succeed in staying in the European Union, despite legally having little power to block Brexit, a constitutional expert has argued.

His comments come after the German MEP Elmar Brok, an ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, said the EU27 could “make a fuss” over Scotland in the Brexit negotiations. 

Jeff King is a professor of law at University College London, and a specialist in the UK constitution.

He said that the Supreme Court ruling on Article 50 had confirmed that Scotland would be unable to veto Brexit from within the UK. 

But he argued this did not mean Scotland would need to leave the EU. 

“Independence for Scotland could very well be a sweet deal for the rest of the European Union,” he told a European Commission event.

“The independence movement, which has some extremely good politicians in it, is going to be in the strongest position they have been for a long time.”

A multi-layered game of bluff

The SNP's Brexit negotiations currently resemble a rather wooden play. It is being acted out for the benefit of Scotland’s sceptical majority, who, polls suggest, would not vote for independence just because of Brexit. They have to be convinced. 

The latest act is the Scottish government’s paper, Scotland’s Place in Europe. First, it asks for a Brexit Britain to stay in the single market (Theresa May has already ruled this out). Second, it asks for a different deal for Scotland, along the lines of the “Norway option”. And third, it asks for a share of the EU powers now being repatriated to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

According to Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, the SNP’s trade spokeswoman at Westminster, the ball is now in the UK government’s court.

“As far as what happens next, we are really waiting for the government to confirm what their position is in relation to our document, Scotland’s Place in Europe,” she told me. “Are they going to agree to a differentiated agreement for Scotland, and if not, then a decision will require to be taken.”

If the SNP are reading their lines for the benefit of Scottish voters, they are doing so with one eye on Germany. As I’ve written before, at the time of the 2014 independence referendum, it wasn’t clear that an independent Scotland could stay in the EU. The SNP believe an intervention from Angela Merkel could provide the reassurance they need. They will be cheered by Brok’s words. 

But Germany is a negotiator too. As The Daily Record reports, there is goodwill towards Scotland in the EU27, but also an awareness that a constitutional crisis could blow up in the UK government’s face. 

If Merkel’s friends and allies continue to talk about their sympathy for Scotland, the idea that the EU considers keeping an independent Scotland in to be a "sweet deal" will seem commonplace. The question for Scottish voters then will be: but how sweet is it for us?

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.