Behind the burqa

Published on Le Monde Diplo, by Serge Halimi, April 2010.

The French probably know more about the number of minarets in Switzerland (four) and burqas in France (367) (1) than they do about the French exchequer’s loss of €20bn as a result of a technical executive decision.

When the French government rescued banks 18 months ago, it did not in return take shares, which could have been sold later at a handsome profit, preferring instead to grant a loan on favourable terms – for the banks. Twenty billion euros ($27bn) more for the shareholders, almost as much as the social security deficit last year ($29bn) and 40 times as much as the state saves each year by replacing only half the civil servants who retire. 

The rise of the National Front, and the far right in general, in the European elections is not unconnected with the amount of public attention devoted to minor issues, while important matters are claimed to be too complex for ordinary mortals to understand. With the fiasco of the regional elections behind him, Sarkozy is about to tackle pensions reform. The social and financial stakes are high and the French government will naturally do all it can to distract the punters by reviving the “debate on the burqa” …

… In 1988 George H W Bush succeeded Ronald Reagan as US president, following a campaign in which he called for penal sanctions for the crime of burning the US flag – a crime committed seven times a year at most. A bill was boldly passed in Congress, with 90% support, only to be thrown out by the Supreme Court. At about the same time, one of the greatest scandals in US economic history happened: savings-and-loans (S&L) were deregulated by Congress and plundered by crooks, egged on by a handful of Senators whose campaigns they had funded. The sting was foreseen but barely mentioned during the 1988 campaign. It was all too complicated and defence of the flag had to come first.

The savings bank scandal cost the US taxpayer $500bn. We shall soon see what is behind the burqa, and what it costs. (full text).

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