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Two intriguing and interesting articles on Muslim women covering

The politics of the veil

Robert Fulford, National Post

Monday, 14 September 2009

In the 21st century, the Islamic burka, the full-face-and-body veil, adopted by more women every day, has become the most potent human symbol on earth. But what exactly does it symbolize? Many say it stands for piety. No, that's wrong, says Marnia Lazreg, an Algerian-born professor of sociology at the City University of New York. Piety has little to do with it; the Koran doesn't even mention the veil. In truth, the veil stands for political ideology and male power.

It also establishes the wearer's extreme distance from the rest of us. We recognize people by seeing their faces and we acknowledge their humanity by reading what their faces tell us. Without that information humans cannot come alive to each other. A woman wearing a mask is a woman declining to be human. Unable to look anyone in the eyes, lacking peripheral vision, her hearing muffled, she becomes an abstraction. Encouraging a woman to wear the burka is like offering her a portable isolation cell.

In Europe the burka stirs public anger. President Nicolas Sarkozy says it's unwelcome in France: "We cannot have in our country women who are prisoners behind netting, cut off from all social life, deprived of identity." Sarkozy understands that he speaks for much of the electorate. Could France actually ban the burka from its streets? That would infringe on individual rights but now begins to seem possible.

Lazreg's fascinating book, Questioning the Veil: Open Letters to Muslim Women (Princeton University Press), tells us that the veil comes and goes, according to the rise and fall of ideologies and the change in male perceptions of women and women's beliefs about themselves. Algeria illustrates the point. After women helped achieve independence from France in 1962, many ceased to wear the veil. It lost its political force as a form of rebellion and became an archaic custom of an older generation. Lazreg remembers her mother discarding it.

The revival of the veil among Algerians in recent years coincides with economic failure, a regional cultural identity movement and the war between Islamists and the Algerian government. Today's Islamists often coerce women to wear the veil. (Surprisingly, Lazreg doesn't mention the physical harm involved: Women who hide every inch of their skin from the sun often suffer from a Vitamin D deficiency and develop early osteoporosis, a syndrome noted by doctors in several countries.)

Source: The National Post, The Politics of the Veil

The chador and feminism don't always fit

Sudanese woman sent to jail for wearing pants is freed Sudanese woman sent to jail for wearing pants is freed

Some romanticize Islamic women's dress as liberating;

the case of Lubna Hussein is a reminder of the dark side of the veil.

By Meghan Daum

September 10, 2009

On Monday in Sudan, Lubna Hussein, a 34-year-old journalist, was convicted and jailed for wearing pants (long, loose ones) on the streets of Khartoum. Though she was released the next day and, moreover, avoided the 40 lashes with a plastic whip that is considered a standard sentence under Sudanese law for wearing "indecent clothing," her case made international headlines and attracted protesters outside the courthouse, many of whom were women who wore trousers in solidarity (and some of whom were arrested).

Hussein, who was entitled to immunity because she worked for the United Nations, quit her job and used the arrest as an opportunity to spotlight the punishment for dress code violations in Sudan. Having refused to pay the $200 fine, Hussein said she was glad to go to jail and seemed disappointed when she was released after a journalists union paid her fine. "I am not happy," she told Reuters. "I told all my friends and family not to pay the fine. ... [T]here are more than 700 women still in the prison who have got no one to pay for them."


Hussein isn't the only rabble-rousing feminist journalist who has made waves in sartorial politics. In a column that was published a year ago but has grabbed widespread interest on the Internet in recent days, America's own Naomi Wolf had a revelation. Islamic dress protocol, she says, can be empowering and is infused with feminist dimensions that Westerners, in their Islamaphobia, are too quick to deny. Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald in August 2008, Wolf talked about visiting Muslim countries and meeting with women in their homes and realizing that "Muslim attitudes toward women's appearance and sexuality are not rooted in repression, but in a strong sense of public versus private, of what is due to God and what is due to one's husband."


Noting (with apparent surprise) that in the privacy of their homes Muslim women avail themselves of body lotions, attractive clothing and Victoria's Secret lingerie, Wolf wonders if Western sexual liberation, at least when it comes to how women are expected to look and dress, offers its own kind of tyranny. In fact, when she donned full-body covering and a chador and visited a Moroccan bazaar, she had something of an epiphany. "As I moved about the market -- the curve of my breasts covered, the shape of my legs obscured, my long hair not flying about me -- I felt a novel sense of calm and serenity," Wolf wrote. "I felt, yes, in certain ways, free."


Clearly, Wolf, who is nothing if not a master of taking obvious, not- exactly-original ideas and disguising them as radical inquiry (her name-making and "groundbreaking" book, "The Beauty Myth," offered up the ostensibly novel idea that obsession with physical appearance was damaging to women's progress in other areas) must never have dressed up as a ghost (or a nun or a cereal box for that matter) for Halloween. If she had, she could have saved herself the plane fare to Morocco and figured out what I thought most women -- actually, most human beings -- already know: Invisibility (or at least plainness) has its good points. Sure, it can be fun to get attention -- sometimes for showing skin, if that's your thing -- but it also can be tremendously liberating to bow out of the whole "am I hot?" enterprise altogether.


Source: LA Times, The Chador and Feminism don't always fit.

Posted by المكتبه at Monday, September 14, 2009

Labels: Islam, women

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