France’s lower house has voted to ban women from wearing full-face veils (the burka and the niqab) in public places. The measure still has to pass the upper house and will face a constitutional challenge. But the strength of the majority was startling: parliament voted 335-1 in favour. Even counting for over 200 abstentions, that is quite a statement.
Liberal opinion here in Britain is generally that a burka ban is intolerant and borderline racist. It is pointed out that only about 2,000 women in France (of a Muslim population of 5m) wear the most restrictive face-covering versions of Islamic garb covered by the law. Liberal critics say that it is not upto the state to legislate what women should wear, and that the new law panders to the French far right.
I am not sure what, I think – which is why I’m not going to write a newspaper column about it. But, at the least, I think the issues are more complicated than the standard liberal reaction allows. Read more
My latest column is on trading between America and China.
Multinational companies still have a vaguely villainous image for much of the left. But they are one of the most powerful forces in the world pushing for peace, prosperity and international co-operation.
Sports tournaments are meant to be celebrations of youth. But last night’s World Cup final made me feel very old. First, there was the sight of poor old Nelson Mandela being trundled around the pitch – he’s about to turn 92 and I’m afraid he looks a little, how shall we say, past it. And then the cameras zeroed in on Jack Taylor, the last Brit to referee a World Cup final: the 1974 game between the Dutch and the Germans. I’m afraid, I remember that game with crystal clarity – as if it were yesterday, in fact. But the fact that Mr Taylor is now in his eighties, is a reminder that it was all a very long time ago – and I’m also getting old. Read more
Until very recently, I’ve been almost instinctively gloomy about Greece. It seemed to me that the combination of unpayable debts, deflationary cuts in spending and a febrile national political culture was the perfect formula for further political and economic trouble.
But maybe the Greeks will surprise us. The first stages of economic reform seem to have been pushed through with impressive speed and resolution. Late last week, parliament voted to increase Greece’s pension age – an important step both for controlling spending and for improving the country’s image in the rest of Europe. Read more
In this week’s podcast: Gideon Rachman returns from his travels and gives us his reflections on South Africa, and his feelings about the impact of the World Cup on the country. We also look at the first conviction at Guantanamo Bay under the Obama administration and finally we turn our attention to Europe and the trouble that politicians in both France and Italy find themselves in as they approach their summer break.
At first sight, there is little geo-political needle in a Spain v Holland World Cup final. But listen to the Dutch national anthem on Sunday night, and you will realise that this is a grudge match dating back almost 500 years. The Dutch anthem is sometimes claimed to be the oldest in the world, and it is certainly the only one I know to contain sarcasm in its very first stanza. Read more
Germany is having a good summer. There is the World Cup adventure – although that may come to an end tonight. And then there is the startling revival in the German economy.
And yet the row about the European Union’s bail-out for Greece has once again revived worries in the rest of Europe about the direction of German foreign policy. I particularly enjoyed this article in Prospect, by Hans Kundnani, about Germany. Kundnani points out that the great cliche in Germany is that the country’s foreign policy is becoming “normalised” as it pursues its own national interests. He argues that this is only partly true. The Germans are certainly pursuing their own national economic interests with increasing determination and are increasingly sceptical both of the European Union and of multilateralism, in general – which I suppose does make them more like the other big powers in Europe. On the other hand, according to Kundnani, Germany remains abnormally suspicious of the use of military force and of power politics, in general. Read more
My latest column is on South Africa:
There are still five days to go before the last ball is kicked at the World Cup, but the sense of relief in South Africa is already palpable. Over the past month, the country has put itself on trial by hosting the world’s biggest sporting event. South Africans were desperate to show to foreigners that their country was safe, welcoming and sophisticated. But they also wanted to prove a point to themselves: that their nation, which is still deeply divided on racial grounds, could unite around a successful tournament.
So much for the collapse of Europe and the unstoppable rise of the Latins. There were three Latin American-European clashes in the last quarters of the World Cup – and the Europeans won all of them. In my newspaper column last Tuesday, I argued that most efforts to impose some sort of theory about the rise and fall of nations on a mere football tournament were basically bullshit – and I feel vindicated by the collapse of the “collapse of Europe” theory.
I saw the two Joburg-based quarter finals live. Getting to matches in Johannesburg is a good deal less convenient than elsewhere. In Durban and Cape Town, the new stadiums are right on the beachfront and easy to walk to. Getting to Soccer City in Soweto involves complicated park-and-ride schemes. And Ellis Park, where Spain and Paraguay played last night, is in a ropey part of the centre of Johannesburg. I had met a couple of Chileans who complained of having to walk back from a game there, through darkened streets at past midnight. But I went to the match with Lungile Madywabe, a South African journalist, who was quite happy parking his (old) Mercedes in the neighbourhood. The surroundings of the stadium were pretty lively: short-time hotels, darkened night clubs with music blaring, some people gathered around briars and lots of stalls selling match memorabilia, including the dreaded vuvuzelas. Read more
Petraeus, Google and Russian spies
In this week’s podcast: We look at how General Stanley McChrystal’s replacement General David Petraeus is getting on in his first week as head of UN and Nato forces in Afghanistan. We hear from the FT’s Beijing correspondent Kathrin Hille about Google’s final attempts to rescue its presence in China; and finally we turn our attention to the alleged Russian spies arrested in the US earlier this week. Read more