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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0-0, yawn yawn - and Everton were just as poor as Spurs

Watching the game was grim. Hearing it, too, would only have made it worse.

Have you ever had a hearing test? Nor me, till last week. I think I can hear OK, just that I’ve started asking my wife to repeat things, usually just one word, that’s all I ever miss.

I’d imagined the nurse would crouch down behind a couch and whisper things you’d have to repeat, a bit like a sight test at the optician’s. Or perhaps you’d get put in front of the TV and they’d progressively turn down the volume really low.

Instead she got out the sort of thing I use in the Lake District to keep down the moles. It’s like a big pencil, with a battery inside, which you put in the grass and it gives a high-pitched ping and drives moles mad.

She stuck it in my right ear and switched it on. I had to put my arm out, then drop it when I heard any pings. I failed one out of five. My left ear was worse – two wrong out of five. So I have to go to the Royal Free. Perhaps the test there will be different: shouting in your ears.

The next day, going to Spurs, the noise, my dears, and the people. I think they’ve trebled the volume of the video nonsenses on the big screen since last season. People were standing with fingers in their ears. The Prem now insists on this manic, faux-operatic music when the teams come out. It was so loud that the teams in fact came out in silence – the silence of the crowd, who usually scream their loyalty, but were overwhelmed by the canned rubbish.

So, what’s new? Spurs’ kit has a slash across the front, as if a car has run over it. That stupid Prem ball, the new multicoloured one. First time I’d seen it close up. Looks like a plastic toy, won at a fairground instead of a goldfish. Apparently it’s Nike’s “Ordem 3”, which boasts a “bold geometric design”. There’s a similar ball for the Spanish and Italian leagues, with slight colour differences, depending on the league. How many fans don’t know which country they’re in?

For years we’ve had new kits every season, just to sell more new kits, then it was multicoloured boots. Now they’re having a go at the balls, just to give us more balls. How about multicoloured grass? It’s been green for years, so boring, come on, Nike.

It was Spurs-Everton. I couldn’t hear what they were singing, until my son translated, yet they were singing something I’m supposed to be an expert on – a Beatles song. It was “Money Can’t Buy You Stones”. Chelsea, of course, has been trying to buy John Stones from Everton. They rather mangled it, trying to make the words fit the tune, or it could have been my ears. Arsenal do it better when singing about Giroud to “Hey Jude”. “Yellow Submarine” is still the all-time Beatles-related football song, especially in Europe. When the Evertonians grew bored with their Beatles pastiche, they fell back on “Fuckoffmourinho”.

Nothing new about Spurs, alas. If anything, they’re back to their dismal, predictable, lumpen ways. They overachieved last season – by being merely mediocre and middling. On Saturday, there was not one Spurs player I was looking forward to watching; Eriksen wasn’t playing.

Harry Kane is a conundrum, for Spurs and England. When you watch him in the flesh it’s clear he has no confidence. His touch has gone; he looks nervous and tired, despite it being so early in the season. Was last season a one-off, his mirabilis moment? I’m beginning to fear so. Earlier in his career he was loaned out several times, which is always a worrying sign – to Leyton Orient, Millwall, Norwich, Leicester. He did poorly, especially at Leicester, so all my Leicester friends tell me.

Or is it because defences have got wise to him, doubling up and marking him out of the game? Everton hardly worried about him, just let him miss his chances. Having said that, Harry will probably now get a hat-trick for England.

It was 0-0, yawn yawn, and Everton were just as poor as Spurs, both of them giving the ball away, useless at free-kicks and corners. What do they do in training all week?

Spurs roused themselves in the second half and the crowd responded, becoming really, really noisy. So I was told . . . 

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 03 September 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Pope of the masses