Behind the veil

The ideas imbued in all Orientalist images of women were a male longing to capture, covet, objectify, and conquer Muslim women as a reflection of, or as analogous to, a desire to gain access and control of the terrain of the Orient.


The furore over Muslim women wearing the veil has been given new impetus by Jack Straw airing his personal opinions in public. Straw finds the veil alienating and a barrier that prevents him from seeing what his Muslim constituents are really thinking when they speak to him.

“It is about personal choice, and I think it’s quite important that we should think about the implications, because seeing people’s faces is fundamental to relationships between people.

“I’ve been struck by the discussions I’ve had with Muslim ladies – only a few, but it’s an increasing, if low, trend – about why they wear the veil and about whether they’ve thought about implications for race or religious relations – it’s their decision.

“Interestingly, the Muslim Council of Britain have made it clear there’s great controversy among Muslim scholars about whether it is obligatory or not; you obviously have to respect all these schools of thought.”

At least Straw recognizes that it is about choice. If he really is listening then he will have encountered this view:

“We want to stop men from treating us like sex objects, as they have always done. We want them to ignore our appearance and to be attentive to our personalities and mind. We want them to take us seriously and treat us as equals and not just chase us around for our bodies and physical looks.”

The veil is misconstrued as a symbol of Muslim oppression, but how can it be if wearing one is not compulsory? It is an act of empowerment for a woman to wear a veil to avoid being treated as a sexual object.

As war in the Middle East continues unabated and Muslims become the target of racism, the battle to force Arab women to submit to Western patriarchal values by removing their veils just as Arab men must submit to imperial cruise missiles is, in fact, oppressive.