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.

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Donald Trump has won, even if he loses the US election

Once the campaign is over, it will be clear that this was a trailer for the blockbuster show that follows.


Donald Trump has already won the US presidential election and Hillary Clinton has already lost it, even if she emerges with the title of commander-in-chief. It is already apparent that Trump will not skulk off the global stage. Nor will he have to. Consider what happens if he loses the presidential race. He will most likely launch a reality TV show that will undoubtedly attract a record number of viewers. From this ridiculously unconstrained and lucrative perch, he'll relentlessly attack President Clinton, the Republican Party and the Democratic Party alike. In retrospect, it will be clear that his entire campaign was a trailer for the blockbuster show that follows. In this way he will continue to influence, if not dominate, public opinion.

This is a sobering thought, especially for those who would like Trump to disappear. But, he won’t go away. Neither will the forces that swept him to the top of politics: the anger, the loss, the sense of unfairness, the inability of the traditional parties to deliver a better outcome for most Americans. Meanwhile, the expectation that a Clinton presidency could conquer these forces is also likely to be proved false. The Oval Office is a highly constrained place that limits the influence of its occupant especially in the face of broader political disarray. She can try and set the tone but the rest of the political establishment looks too dysfunctional, and largely unwilling, to be able to help her. Her presidency seems set to open with high expectations and low approval ratings. Trump, however, could move to the next phase of his career with low expectations and high TV ratings.

Both have faced threats of prosecution throughout this long and increasingly ugly campaign. But, does Trump care if the courts or the government put his tax returns or the sexual allegations against him to the test? He won’t. Will he care if his emails are leaked? No. The real “public prosecutor” for Trump is the Fourth Estate – the media. It will prosecute him just as relentlessly if he becomes commander-in-chief but probably with the same limited impact.

Will it matter to Clinton if her emails, from the past or future, are displayed to the public? Will it matter if the Clinton Foundation faces further allegations of “crooked” behaviour? But, we live in the internet age. The real “public prosecutor” for Clinton is and will remain Julian Assange and Wikileaks. His sights will continue to be firmly set on her. He does not care about Trump and Trump doesn’t care about him. Once again, Trump wins.

Trump's only real threat of looking like the loser comes if the polls are wrong and he ends up winning. Many wonder whether he really wants the job. After all, the Oval Office is the political equivalent of a straightjacket. In theory, Trump won’t be able to shoot words from the hip so freely once he is sitting in the big shiny chair with his finger on the literal and metaphorical button. But, Reality TV Land will immediately install itself in the Oval Office if he wins. Then, anything goes. In the meantime, he will “win” in his effort to redefine America’s political landscape. As president, it won’t matter to him if the House and Senate block him. He is not concerned with process. His job is to break down the traditional political establishment.

This is possible because we are in the midst of a populist uprising of the discontented who want a radical shake up of the establishment.

This is exactly what has made Clinton’s task as a presidential candidate so much harder than her predecessor's, regardless of whether she was campaigning against Sanders or Trump. It will make her job in the White House harder still. Whether she wins or loses this race, she’s still the “Establishment”, which has become Public Enemy Number One.

For those that want Trump in power, he’s winning either way. For those that don’t want him in power, it’s too late. He’s already won. Perhaps it’s time to pay less attention to the man and more to the forces that pushed him into such a powerful position in American society.

 Pippa Malmgren, former advisor to President George W Bush, author of Signals: How Everyday Signs Can Help Us Navigate the World’s Turbulent Economy.