Quietly, away from the fanfare that accompanied the French vote on banning the niqab in public, and calls by Philip Hollobone to impose a ban in Britain, the Syrian government has instituted its own, more limited, ban, removing teachers who wear the full face veil from teaching in public schools.
At first glance, such a move might seem puzzling: Syria, with dozens of religious sects and a nominally secular government, has managed for decades to use a light touch, at least when it comes to personal faith.
But the rise of religion among the population has shaken the leadership Syria’s struggle with Islamists and visible symbols of Islam is part of a wider clash, a clash within Islam itself. Political Islam is gaining ground across both the Arab world and Muslim-majority countries. What happens in this debate matters profoundly, because the same debate is taking place within Muslim communities in the west.
The debate, crudely put, is over the space between the personal and the political.