AT PENPOINT The ban on face covering in France has more dimensions than a mere new piece of legislation. As the first connected arrest, which occurred on the first day of the ban, indicated, the new French law is not about France but all of Europe, and about its relationship to Islam. The war on terror, and the extent to which it is a war on Islam, and thus a continuation of the crusades, has also been brought into focus. One development which should be kept in mind is the return of racism to French politics. Then there is the recent decision by Italy to let through North African migrants, a decision which opens up the whole of the EU to the migrants. The reason these migrants are on the whole unwelcome is that the other North Africans are unwelcome - racism. The connection has been made in France, where President Nicholas Sarkozys UMP lost ground in the recent local body elections to the Front National, founded by Jean-Marie Le Pen, and now led by his daughter Marine. Europe has long been xenophobic, with Hitlers hatred for the Jews being legendary. However, once the Jews became firm European favourites after World War II, they were replaced by migrants. These migrants, mostly economic, came from former colonies to do the jobs the natives found too hard to handle. Attracted by the possibility of earning more than they could at home, the migrants poured in. In addition, high population growth rates at home, coupled with demographic decline in Europe, heightened this trend. One result was that the migrants brought over their own cultures, which were no longer merely to be derided at a distance, in the colonies, but were to be mocked at home. The migrants tended to be from Muslim countries mainly because they had occupied those lands. Thus, if the UK took Muslim migrants from South Asia (India, Pakistan and Kashmir), the Netherlands received Indonesians, France North Africans (Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia), and Germany Turks (though it had formally colonised Turks, it had allied with Turkey in World War I). A large number were Muslims, in some countries, were migrants. In France, the migrants were all Muslim apart from some Africans. In fact, only in the UK, where Sikhs and Hindus from India, and West Indians also migrated, were there significant numbers of non-Muslims. The migrants included those who were willing to be assimilated, but though the original motive of migration was economic, they also saw that the mother countries provided better facilities than at home, and a more defined ideology of freedom. This led to a desire to continue the practice of their cultures, which also meant the practice of their religion. The anti-immigrant sentiment is not just about jobs, though that provides much of the motivation. It also depends on the realisation that the migrants want to live their lives according to their own cultures, even though the European countries had a desire to protect their own cultures. The inherent racism of these cultures came to the fore, and the desire to protect ones culture was converted into a movement against the migrants. France became a leader, as it had been in many other respects, both because it had a large migrant population (mostly from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, which made up what was known as Francophone North Africa), because it was proud of its culture, and because it was accounted a leader in Europe. The niqab issue became prominent in France because of a number of reasons. The first that needs to be remembered is that this is an old Orientalist issue: That covering by Muslim women is something which causes all sorts of problems. Previously, this argument was made to Muslims in Muslim lands during the colonial era. Now, it is raised as a bogey to show that Muslim migrants are unwilling to assimilate. Another reason why the issue became prominent is because women have taken the covering issue into their own hands, and this is one of the big recent changes among Muslims all over the world: The covering issue is not a social and status issue, as it was for many families which were attacked during the colonial era, but a personal issue for the women concerned. This applied even more so in Europe, where state-provided protection means that fathers and brothers are not as fearsome as in the home country. The additional complication has been the difference in covering practiced by the various schools. When covering was based on custom in South Asia, during the colonial era, rather than the shariah injunctions, there was actually more uniformity. However, it was found out that the Hanafi school of thought, followed in the subcontinent by the majority, as well as the Jafri school of thought, prescribed that the face and hands remain uncovered. As a result, it should be noted, when the state in Iran enforced the hijab, it did not enforce the niqab. However, the hijab, or covering of the entire body, including the head, but excluding the face and hands, has been enforced, and the niqab, which also means the covering of the face and hands, is considered compulsory only in two schools of thought, the Hanbali and the Maliki. The niqab is based on a Quranic verse aimed at the wives of the Prophet (PBUH). It is argued that what has been prescribed for His (PBUH) wives is supposed to apply to all Muslim women. However, it is not forbidden in the schools that do not make it compulsory, but within them, let alone farz (obligatory), it is not even mandub (recommended). It is merely mubah (optional). However, the Maliki school of thought makes it compulsory, which is followed in North Africa, as does the Hanbali, which is followed in Saudi Arabia, with the result that not only does the Muslim community of France believe it is compulsory, but the Western exposure to Muslim societies includes (one because of migration, one because of oil) societies where the niqab is held to be compulsory. This forced refusal to allow women to follow their beliefs has caused a challenge to arise to one of the prime freedoms of the Western world. The clash is between assimilation and following ancestral custom. The problem is that if the migrants assimilate, will they be acceptable? The inherent racism of the imperialist enterprise comes out. The likelihood is that brown Frenchmen will not be acceptable, though the problem is not that the white Frenchman is unwilling to do the menial jobs of French society, but is also not reproducing sufficiently, with the result that migrant labour has to be brought in. France has become focal for this not just because it has been a pioneer in the ideology of freedom, but because it has long faced the problem of a declining population, first tackled by importing other white Europeans, mostly Italians. However, now there are no surplus European populations attracted by French living standards. Those attracted are brown Arabs. A country ripe for such problems, and one in which Pakistan is much likelier to take an interest, is the UK. Here too there is a large population of Muslim migrants, also moving into a second, even third, generation, and with outright racists receiving more popular support. Exactly what shape is taken by the reaction cannot be predicted, but that it will come should be assumed. How exactly Pakistan will react can be predicted even less, but it seems a good idea to be out of the USAs war on terror, in which the UK is fully complicit, by then. It must not be forgotten that where France has gone, the rest of Europe must follow. Email: