Yet, oddly, she herself has only worn it once, to experiment. “Behind the veil lives a thriving Muslim sexuality,” by Naomi Wolf for the Sydney Morning Herald, August 30:
A woman swathed in black to her ankles, wearing a headscarf or a full chador, walks down a European or North American street, surrounded by other women in halter tops, miniskirts and short shorts. She passes under immense billboards on which other women swoon in sexual ecstasy, cavort in lingerie or simply stretch out languorously, almost fully naked. Could this image be any more iconic of the discomfort the West has with the social mores of Islam, and vice versa?
Not really. More “iconic of the discomfort the West has with the social mores of Islam” are probably things like child-marriages, polygamy, men divorcing wives through text messaging, and so forth.
Ideological battles are often waged with women’s bodies as their emblems, and Western Islamophobia is no exception. When France banned headscarves in schools, it used the hijab as a proxy for Western values in general, including the appropriate status of women. When Americans were being prepared for the invasion of Afghanistan, the Taliban were demonised for denying cosmetics and hair colour to women; when the Taliban were overthrown, Western writers often noted that women had taken off their scarves.
And here I thought the Taliban was demonised for, among other things, stoning women, terrorizing anyone defying them, and (almost forgot) harboring the planners of 9/11, which slew some 3,000 people. Didn’t realize it was all about cosmetics. At any rate, Wolf should be pleased to know that, despite all that, the world has already been asked to recognize the Taliban’s humanity.
But are we in the West radically misinterpreting Muslim sexual mores, particularly the meaning to many Muslim women of being veiled or wearing the chador? And are we blind to our own markers of the oppression and control of women?[...]
Wolf should be pleased to know that none other than Osama bin Laden is in strong agreement with her. Says the latter, “You [Americans] are a nation that exploits women like consumer products or advertising tools calling upon customers to purchase them. You use women to serve passengers, visitors, and strangers to increase your profit margins. You then rant that you support the liberation of women.”
Outside the walls of the typical Muslim households that I visited in Morocco, Jordan, and Egypt, all was demureness and propriety. But inside, women were as interested in allure, seduction and pleasure as women anywhere in the world.[...]
Indeed, many Muslim women I spoke with did not feel at all subjugated by the chador or the headscarf. On the contrary, they felt liberated from what they experienced as the intrusive, commodifying, basely sexualising Western gaze.[...]
I experienced it myself. I put on a shalwar kameez and a headscarf in Morocco for a trip to the bazaar. Yes, some of the warmth I encountered was probably from the novelty of seeing a Westerner so clothed; but, 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. I felt, yes, in certain ways, free.
Got that everyone? Taliban, morally upright; Western women, controlled and oppressed; the hijab and burqa, means of freedom. If you’re in the habit of reading Islamist propaganda, this piece should suffice for today.