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November 18, 2006


hannah draper

Do you have a link to a video of the exchange? i'd like to use it in my Arabic class.


Hi Marc. What do you think about this? http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=35465
I salute you.


Here's what the Syrian-American poetess and veiled college professor Mohja Kahf says:

"My body is not your battleground
My hair is neither sacred nor cheap,
neither the cause of your disarray
nor the path to your liberation
My hair will not bring progress and clean water
if it flies unbraided in the breeze
It will not save us from our attackers
if it is wrapped and shielded from the sun
Untangle your hands from my hair
so I can comb and delight in it,
so I can honor and annoint it,
so I can spill it over the chest of my sweet love"

From _Emails From Scheherezade_. You really ought to buy the whole book and read all the poems for her take on the hijab in America today. Funny, smart, sexy, erudite and passionate.

This hijab hatred makes me want to start covering my hair in as MIddle Eastern a way as possible, just to piss off bigots. And I'm a CHRISTIAN Lebanese. But my Christian Arab grandmother was always after me to cover my hair. In the Arab world, Jews, Christians and Muslims all veiled until the 1930s, and women like my grandmother continued to cover their hair well into the 1970s.

In fact, according to Leila Ahmed and Fatima Mernissi, veiling was not practiced by Muslim women in the earliest years of Islam - it was a tradition borrowed from Jewish and Christian women. The Prophet's wives veiled but that's because they were important - it was a whole special case. There is a whole feminist discourse inside Islam on the veil.

Anyway - at this point, veiling has become such a hot button issue that it's a great way to express political defiance. Women have the right to wear a scarf and long skirts if they want to. It's pure ethnic/religious hatred to try to control our clothing.

(The niqab - that's an issue where reasonable objections can be raised in a free society with "security" requirements)

Ms .45

(Schwa-Schwa here)

Bit of a tangent here, but I was at Chadstone Shopping Centre today - a comparatively high-end mall, not as luxurious as it used to be, but still pretty fashiony - and saw a Muslim girl who was wearing a brightly coloured, glittery, not-quite-translucent scarf over her face. Nobody really paid any attention - after all, it's Sunday, and the mall was packed to the rafters with worshippers of mammon. I was slightly curious to ask her about it, but this is Melbourne, Australia - we're multicultural and tolerant and we just don't DO that. And who knows, she may have just had a cold sore.

A number of the Muslim girls I see every day aren't even making a serious attempt to cover their hair - they veil "Tehran style", which makes me think that it's not so much about modesty as "say it loud, I'm Muslim and I'm proud!". I do notice that Muslim girls are always the best dressed at my university, and I'm wondering if headscarves will be taken up as mainstream fashion. On my way out of the mall I checked out a headband which could be scrunched up as a normal headband or stretched out to cover the whole head. I didn't buy one because they were in loathsome pastel colours, but I like the idea of building the bridge of civilizations through fashion.

Brian Ulrich

Here in Jerusalem, a majority of women cover their hair - because they're from the conervative end of the Jewish religious spectrum!

I also remember when a hijabi friend was once mistaken for a nun in a video rental outlet.

Gag Halfrunt
Here in Jerusalem, a majority of women cover their hair - because they're from the conervative end of the Jewish religious spectrum!
I once read about an Orthodox Jewish woman from the US who was a volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement in Gaza. Being Orthodox Jewish she covered her hair, and she did so the local way, with a hijab.

(Some Orthodox women wear wigs over their natural hair. I've never quite understood the point of that.)

The Observer

Meanwhile Farouk Hosni is under pressure from the usual suspects and has offered to resign.


In a free society everyone should have the right to dress as they please and everyone should have the right to criticize that dress. Now if only those feminists who are outraged by criticism of the veil would express equal vehemence about societies which impose it legally (Saudi Arabia, Iran) or socially (increasingly Algeria, Egypt).

Nur al-Cubicle

The veil is now the symbol of resistance to Voldemort.

Amy H

Hi AA --
Great post. Tiny correction: Helwan Univ. is not in Upper Egypt - it's in Helwan, an industrial city just outside Cairo. Interestingly, Gehad Auda used to teach political science there.


In all of the hijab and niqab debates I'm reminded somehow of Ataturk's 1925 Sapka Kanunu ("Hat Act") banning the tarboosh--which had been imported from Morocco after Mahmud II destroyed the Janissary corps, as a replacement for their signature turbans. The Father of the Turks preferred fedoras (as you can see from any number of hagiographical images in present-day Turkey).

Not long after Ataturk's diktat, students at Dar Al-Ulum in Cairo began demonstrations to allow them turbans instead of tarbooshes (the Turkish "Hat Act," obviously not in force in Egypt but apparently relevant, had included an exemption clause for clerics allowing them the turban). Ahmed El Sawi argued in Al-Ahram for a laissez faire approach: "Have you not noticed that the beautiful girls on the street turn away when they see the turban, although there is nothing dearer to the hearts of young men than those girls. What else do they have these young men who spend their days and nights peering into the sullen faces of their books? What will become of them if they are deprived of those tender glances which are their only consolation in their long, dull day? I feel for them!"

Anyway, you don't see a lot of Turks in tarbooshes anymore, unless they're selling lemonade. On the other hand, other than Ayman al Zawahiri, I haven't seen a whole lot of normal Egyptians in turbans, either. And nobody wears a fedora these days except Jack Abramoff and certain Americans of Sicilian descent.

Moral: legal controversies over clothing are historically normal, and generally not arbitrary. Auda is clearly an a**hole, and banning the niqab may be unwise in the final analysis (although if you watch The Battle of Algiers you do kind of see the point, sympathies with the FLN in that particular case aside); but restrictions on politically resonant headgear are no more objectionable in principle than any other controls on political expression. Campaign finance laws, for example.

Secondary moral: sometimes it's just better to let nature take its course. (Although I'd be in favor of a ban on bellbottoms... How did they come back??)


Perhaps Farouk Hosni and Gehad Auda are focused more on American public opinion than Egyptian in making these remarks, and are trying to raise their "it's us or the Islamists" profile before the regime pushes through a nominal reform of Art 76 that will pave the way for Gamal's succession, to keep the Americans happy?

Diaa Rashwan nailed it in this quote from the Daily Star's article on the controversy:

"Citing the minister’s remarks that tied the veil with cultural backwardness and general stagnation, Rashwan said: “Can [the minister] tell us how the veil related to the political despotism, corruption, social retardation and governance’s hierarchy, which are our major disasters that we have been suffering from the past few years?”


When I was growing up, the local Catholic diocese required that women wear headscarves at Masses. Where was this? Seoul, South Korea. So much for "Middle Eastern" particulars. (In fact, Korea has a long history of social taboos against women showing their face in public--totally unrelated to religion, obviously.)


I want to thank the commenters on this blog for their views on the veil. Frankly, I am appalled by the way women are treated in the Islamic world (and unlike right-wingers, I didn't just discover their plight in the wake of 9/11). It is tempting sometimes to veto my liberal instincts and back reactionary measures such as headscarf bans because I feel so strongly that something has to be done.

But then I read sites like this and realize that jsut because the veil has become a symbol of Islam's repression of females, many muslim women in fact does not think so. Attacking it would not be an attack on bigoted attitudes towards women, but on Islam itself.

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