The Veil: Women Writers on Its History, Lore, and Politics

John Borneman writes:

We are fascinated by the veiling of women. From Morocco to Iran to Indonesia, as well as in Europe and North America, the veil has come to signify the unbreachable difference between the West and Islam. In the post-Cold War imagination it stands for so many things in so many different cultural contexts – Muslims, women’s rights, women’s oppression, tradition, beauty – that talk about the veil cannot be contained, because each domain of life and action seemingly implicates every other. Rarely is the veil worn innocuously. In some places, wearing it carries the same connotations as wearing a cross or carrying a flag. Today, it is most closely identified with the issue of women’s status in a politicised Islam. Veiling was briefly abolished in Iran by Reza Shah in 1936, but made compulsory under the revolutionary Islamic regime in 1979. Various political regimes have since followed suit in making it compulsory for Muslim women to wear, or (in the case of French schoolgirls) not to wear, the veil.

(LRB 18 December 2008)