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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How Brexit will send flight prices soaring higher

Ever heard of the Open Skies agreement? 

Ah, taking back control. Isn’t it marvellous? Only a week to go before Theresa May storms up to our soon-to-be ex’s lawyer and thrusts notice of divorce proceedings (demanding we keep the house, money, car, Costa del Sol holiday home, kids and dog) in the pocket of his shiny, European slim-fit suit. All sorted, yes?

Probably not, but panicking won’t help now - so why not take a moment to savour this blossoming (Great) British spring, enjoy some fresh air and take a few moments gazing to the heavens. Why not? Because the skies above us are a never-ending reflection of the Brexit nightmare we face on the ground.

Since the early 1990s air travel around Europe has become more simple and less expensive - the direct result of deregulation by the EU, which abolished rafts of bilateral deals between individual nations and instead merged them all into one agreement between member states. That movement removed numerous passenger and service restrictions, increasing competition and thus driving down prices. Low-cost airlines flourished, and Europe became more open than ever before. Damn that EU red tape, right?

Now the UK has chosen to veer off course, there are three main options for aviation deals with the EU - all of which are essentially mile-high versions of every other trade agreement now up for grabs.

Firstly, the UK can continue with its membership of the European Common Aviation Area, which would provide continued access to the European Single Aviation Market. Secondly, the UK can negotiate a bespoke deal with the EU, similar to the Open Skies agreement we are currently part of between Europe and the US. Like the deregulation of two decades ago, this resulted in pushing competition up and fares down, but post-Brexit the UK could end up on the outside of this deal.

Finally, there’s aviation’s own "nuclear option" - leaving the EU with no deal and starting the long process of individually-negotiated deals country by country. 

Option one, retaining membership of the ECAA, also requires acceptance of all EU aviation law and the European courts - something Theresa May has already proclaimed to be a "red line".

Therefore option two would seem the next best deal, but would still leave us out the loop when it came to trans-Atlantic flights - we may have to wave goodbye to Ryanair’s budget flights to New York before we even got the chance to say céad míle fáilte (the fact they are in partnership with Norwegian Air could further complicate matters depending on the exit deal).

So what does it really mean for the industry? In the short-term, the best case scenario is to maintain existing arrangements until a new deal or deals are reached. But if opting for individual bilateral agreements in the long-term, the industry will not only have to undergo the costly and laborious process of negotiating deals with individual nations inside the EU and out, it will also have no influence on EU aviation regulations, which it will still have to comply with when flying into and out of the bloc.

And for holiday-makers? Like many scenarios post-Brexit the impact will not be immediately obvious, but rising fares are one unwelcome result, and a return to 1980s bilateral restrictions and regulations is surely bad for all concerned. Having said that, if the laptop and tablet ban spreads it might give air travel something of a vintage feel anyway. What’s showing on that big drop-down TV in the aisle?

PS - European aviation law is one of the strongest obstacles to airport expansion. Hillingdon, home to Heathrow airport, was one of the few London boroughs to vote leave. Just saying.