Me versus French MP on the face-veil

Watch the video of the BBC World News’s <em>Doha Debates</em>, hosted by Tim Sebastian.

A fortnight or so ago, I went out to Doha, Qatar, to participate in the Doha Debates programme on BBC World News. The show is beamed into 300 million homes in 200 countries and is hosted by the veteran BBC interviewer and anchor Tim Sebastian.

The motion was: "This house believes France is right to ban the face veil." Speaking on the proposition side were Jacques Myard, a French MP from President Sarkozy's UMP, and Farzana Hassan, a Canadian author and activist; speaking on the opposition side were me and the French journalist Nabila Ramdani.

I'm pleased to announce that my side won the debate on the night, with the 350-strong audience of Qataris and expats rejecting the motion by 78 per cent to 22 per cent.

It was a pretty lively and heated debate. You can watch it all in one go in the video on the Doha Debates website.

Or you can watch it via YouTube in four parts, beginning with part 1 below:

Here are parts 2, 3 and 4. (My own opening statement kicks in at 4mins 45secs in part 2 of the four video clips and at 16mins 30secs in the full video of the debate on the Doha Debates website.)

UPDATE: I forgot to mention above that I was a last-minute replacement on the panel for Sayeeda Warsi, who pulled out at the last minute. But was she forced to withdraw by her boss, the Prime Minister?

From the Evening Standard:

Muslim cabinet minister Baroness Warsi pulled out of defending the burqa at an international TV debate because of "government pressure", it was claimed today.

The Tory party co-chairman had been due to appear in front of a global TV audience of 350 million people opposing the motion that "France is right to ban the face veil".

However, a Tory party source said that Baroness Warsi, right, had pulled out for diary commitments.

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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The most terrifying thing about Donald Trump's speech? What he didn't say

No politician uses official speeches to put across their most controversial ideas. But Donald Trump's are not hard to find. 

As Donald Trump took the podium on a cold Washington day to deliver his inauguration speech, the world held its breath. Viewers hunched over televisions or internet streaming services watched Trump mouth “thank you” to the camera, no doubt wondering how he could possibly live up to his deranged late-night Twitter persona. In newsrooms across America, reporters unsure when they might next get access to a president who seems to delight in denying them the right to ask questions got ready to parse his words for any clue as to what was to come. Some, deciding they couldn’t bear to watch, studiously busied themselves with other things.

But when the moment came, Trump’s speech was uncharacteristically professional – at least compared to his previous performances. The fractured, repetitive grammar that marks many of his off-the-cuff statements was missing, and so, too, were most of his most controversial policy ideas.

Trump told the crowd that his presidency would “determine the course of America, and the world, for many, many years to come” before expressing his gratefulness to President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama for their “gracious aid” during the transition. “They have been magnificent," Trump said, before leading applause of thanks from the crowd.

If this opening was innocent enough, however, it all changed in the next breath. The new president moved quickly to the “historic movement”, “the likes of which the world has never seen before”, that elected him President. Following the small-state rhetoric of his campaign, Trump promised to take power from the “establishment” and restore it to the American people. “This moment," he told them, “Is your moment. It belongs to you.”

A good deal of the speech was given over to re-iterating his nationalist positions while also making repeated references to the key issues – “Islamic terrorism” and families – that remain points of commonality within the fractured Republican GOP.

The loss of business to overseas producers was blamed for “destroying our jobs”. “Protection," Trump said, “Will lead to great strength." He promised to end what he called the “American carnage” caused by drugs and crime.

“From this day forward," Trump said, “It’s going to be only America first."

There was plenty in the speech, then, that should worry viewers, particularly if you read Trump’s promises to make America “unstoppable” so it can “win” again in light of his recent tweets about China

But it was the things Trump didn't mention that should worry us most. Trump, we know, doesn’t use official channels to communicate his most troubling ideas. From bizarre television interviews to his upsetting and offensive rallies and, of course, the infamous tweets, the new President is inclined to fling his thoughts into the world as and when he sees fit, not on the occasions when he’s required to address the nation (see, also, his anodyne acceptance speech).

It’s important to remember that Trump’s administration wins when it makes itself seem as innocent as possible. During the speech, I was reminded of my colleague Helen Lewis’ recent thoughts on the “gaslighter-in-chief”, reflecting on Trump’s lying claim that he never mocked a disabled reporter. “Now we can see," she wrote, “A false narrative being built in real time, tweet by tweet."

Saying things that are untrue isn’t the only way of lying – it is also possible to lie by omission.

There has been much discussion as to whether Trump will soften after he becomes president. All the things this speech did not mention were designed to keep us guessing about many of the President’s most controversial promises.

Trump did not mention his proposed ban on Muslims entering the US, nor the wall he insists he will erect between America and Mexico (which he maintains the latter will pay for). He maintained a polite coolness towards the former President and avoiding any discussion of alleged cuts to anti-domestic violence programs and abortion regulations. Why? Trump wanted to leave viewers unsure as to whether he actually intends to carry through on his election rhetoric.

To understand what Trump is capable of, therefore, it is best not to look to his speeches on a global stage, but to the promises he makes to his allies. So when the President’s personal website still insists he will build a wall, end catch-and-release, suspend immigration from “terror-prone regions” “where adequate screening cannot occur”; when, despite saying he understands only 3 per cent of Planned Parenthood services relate to abortion and that “millions” of women are helped by their cancer screening, he plans to defund Planned Parenthood; when the president says he will remove gun-free zones around schools “on his first day” - believe him.  

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland