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The Politics of the Burqa

A request for readings and/or films on the politics of the burqa elicited the 
following suggestions on WMST-L in December 2009.  For more WMST-L files now
available on the Web, see the WMST-L File Collection.
Date: Tue, 8 Dec 2009 08:52:15 -0500
From: Gail Dines <gdines AT WHEELOCK.EDU>
Subject: readings and films on the Burka
Can anyone suggest any good readings and/or films on the politics of the burka?


Gail Dines

Gail Dines
Professor of Sociology and Women's Studies
Chair of American Studies
Wheelock College
35 Pilgrim Road
Boston, MA 02215
gdines  AT  wheelock.edu
Date: Tue, 8 Dec 2009 08:01:56 -0600
From: Kulvinder Arora <kulvinder.arora AT GMAIL.COM>
Subject: Re: readings and films on the Burka
Saba Mahmood has a great article called "Feminist Theory, Agency and the
Liberatory Subject"in the book On shifting Ground: muslim women in the
global era. It is acritique of the assumptions and it positions the burqa
within muslim women's progressive reframing of Islam. It is a bit difficult
for students as it is very theoretical but worth the effort.

Kulvinder Arora
Visiting Assistant Professor
Gender and Women's Studies
University of Illinois, Chicago
1222 University Hall
601 S. Morgan Street MC 360
Chicago, Illinois 60607
Date: Tue, 8 Dec 2009 06:36:04 -0800
From: Cynthia Fortner <clfortner2004 AT YAHOO.COM>
Subject: Re: readings and films on the Burka
Hi Gail, 
Check out Asne Seierstad's book The Bookseller of Kabul as you will
appreciate the text but also the cover art. My students appreciate
the shopping trip wearing burqas chapter detailed in this book. Also,
Debbie Rodriguez's wonderful book Kabul Beauty School is extremely
good with burqa experiences and is a memoir of an American woman who,
among many other events, wears a burqa in Kabul along with the women
she befriends from Afghanistan. The market place scene is quite
gripping and engaging, and so are the experiences of trying to wear a
burqa and get ready for a wedding--which is lavishly described in the

Khaled Hosseini in his book A Thousand Splendid Suns provides burqa
discussions as well and politicizes them fictionally in a similar way
that Rodriguez does from her lived experiences. The chapter of Laila
giving birth with a doctor "required" to wear a burqa does leave a
lasting impression with students, and so does Miriam's choice early in
the novel to wear the burqa.

I've addressed these entire novels with classes several times as well
as excerpted the burqa chapters--both with great success.

All the best to you,
Dr. Cynthia Fortner PhD
Dept. of English and College of Technology
Purdue University
Date: Tue, 8 Dec 2009 10:15:59 -0800
From: Jessica Nathanson <janathanson AT YAHOO.COM>
Subject: Re: readings and films on the Burka
"The Burka and the Bikini" by Joan Jacobs Brumberg and Jacquelyn
Jackson, originally published in the Boston Globe, is available here
as a [MS Word] file (if the link doesn't work, just google "the burka and
the bikini" "brumberg"): http://www.carteeharing.com/burkaandbikini.doc
[also available as a .pdf file at http://www.eslniche.com/images/The_Burka_and_the_Bikini.pdf ]

Jessica Nathanson
Director, Women's Resource Center and Women's Studies Program
Augsburg College
Minneapolis, MN
nathanso  AT  augsburg.edu
Date: Tue, 8 Dec 2009 14:57:54 -0500
From: "Shively, Kim" <shively AT KUTZTOWN.EDU>
Subject: Re: readings and films on the Burka
You might try Lila Abu-Lughod's article "Do Muslim Women Really Need
Saving?"  It was published in American Anthropologist in 2002, but has
shown up in some undergraduate anthropology and gender studies

Kim Shively, PhD
Assistant Professor of Anthropology
Department of Anthropology/Sociology
Kutztown University
Kutztown, PA  19530
Date: Tue, 8 Dec 2009 13:46:35 -0500
From: Daphne Patai <daphne.patai AT SPANPORT.UMASS.EDU>
Subject: Re: readings and films on the Burka
For a critical perspective on the burka (but not the hijab) as a human
rights issue, you might have your students read this article by famous
feminist Phyllis Chesler:


daphne.patai  AT  spanport.umass.edu
Dept. of Languages, Literatures,  & Cultures
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Date: Tue, 8 Dec 2009 12:28:32 -0800
From: Jessica Nathanson <janathanson AT YAHOO.COM>
Subject: Re: readings and films on the Burka (more)
After I posted, I remembered these two excellent pieces by Fatemeh
Fakhraie that place Western feminist critiques of the Burka and of
Muslim women, more generally, into a broader context:

"Feminists Don't Understand Muslim Women"

"The Dos and Don'ts of Defending Muslim Women"

Jessica Nathanson
Director, Women's Resource Center and Women's Studies Program
Augsburg College
Minneapolis, MN
nathanso  AT  augsburg.edu
Date: Tue, 8 Dec 2009 16:19:07 -0500
From: Zoe Brigley Thompson <zoe.brigley AT GMAIL.COM>
Subject: Re: readings and films on the Burka
You might also like to have a look at the poetry of Imtiaz Dharker,
especially her book *Purdah* if you can get hold of it. See this article in
*The Times* written by Frieda Hughes (daughter of Hughes and Plath):
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/article616118.ece It might
be a good starting point for dicsussion. Do we agree with Frieda Hughes

Dr. Zoe Brigley Thompson
zoe.brigley  AT  gmail.com
Date: Tue, 8 Dec 2009 17:27:08 -0500
From: Elise Hendrick <elise.hendrick AT GMAIL.COM>
Subject: Re: readings and films on the Burka
Afghan parliamentarian and human rights activist Malalai Joya's
recently released autobiography, "A Woman among Warlords", also
discusses the burqa (along with other women's rights issues in
Afghanistan) at length.

Elise Hendrick
elise.hendrick  AT  gmail.com
Date: Wed, 9 Dec 2009 10:08:43 +1100
From: Bronwyn Winter <bronwyn.winter AT USYD.EDU.AU>
Subject: Re: readings and films on the Burka
On the burka specifically, rather than the whole grab-bag of debates about
veiling and Muslim women?

On the whole grab-bag, there are many Muslim feminists who argue *against*
veiling as well as against misguided cultural relativist defences of it as
liberatory or a new form of feminist antiracist identity politics etc.
- Moghissi Haideh in her 1999 book "feminism and islamic fundamentalism" has
a very good chapter on this.
- the 1993 or 1994 book (sorry can"t remember date) edited by val moghadam
"identity politics and women" contains a number of essays that might be
- val herself refers to modern reveiling as a new form of political uniform
in her book modernizing women and has more recently done a good encyclopedia
entry on it but I cannot remember the references sorry....
- fatima mernissi refers to the veil as an "extraordinary political weapon"
in her 1992 book la peur-modernité, can't remember what the english title is
but it has been translated.

i.e this debate has been around for a while and a number of
muslim-background scholars have not supported cultural relativist positions.
there are, however, distinctions between hijab and burqa and this is coming
out very clearly in the current french debate.

I have done various bits and pieces on this too.
- in my chapter "if women really mattered" that closes the book "after
shock:  september 11, 2001: global feminist perspectives" (raincoast 2003,
the original is spinifex 2002), I include some discussion of the politics of
the burqa.  
- in my article "Religion, culture and women's human rights: Some general
political and theoretical considerations." in Women's Studies International
Forum 29(4), I discuss the post-9/11 political manipulation of burqa and
hijab wearing esp. by western states.

- in my 2008 book hijab and the republic:  uncovering the french headscarf
debate, I go into the range of politics surrounding reveiling and extremity
of forms thereof, and critique all of islamist politics, identity politics
and french state racist sexism.  the first chapter gives background to
modern reveiling and the whole third section goes into the complexities of
the debate in france, including positions taken by hijab-defenders (who do
so for various reasons and come from various ethnic and political

- the 2008 confirmation of refusal of french nationality to a burqa-wearing
moroccan woman was breaking news as I was doing final edits so I do not go
into it much but if you read french I"ve just done an article on that and on
the parliamentary inquiry on the burqa currently taking place in france, for
a well-known immigration history journal, issue will be coming out early in
new year.

- I also have an article appearing in, of all things, a modern greek studies
journal, on the politics of religion and headscarf wearing in turkey which
is not exactly burqa but may be of interest nonetheless... esp as I debunk
the oft-made comparison between turkey and france (even if there are
connections and resemblances, they are less close than many assume).

and I'll be surely writing more about the nest of veiling issues (not nec.
in relation to france) much as I'd like to be prioritising discussion of
something else for a change, because states, both muslim and western, and
religious lobbies of all sorts, just keep doing the stupid sexist racist
things they've always been doing, and women keep negotiating all sorts of
complex pathways through it, so I don't see this going off the agenda
anytime soon.
so 'watch this space' I suppose :-).

point of interest:  many of those who were against veiling in schools in
france do not support a general burqa ban as they consider it to be a
completely different situation (a) it"s not minors (b) it"s not school (c)
beyond laws against nudity in public places, one cannot legally tell people
what to wear or not to wear in the street and the refusal of nationality
(while hubby who requires the burqa wearing by wife has been naturalised for
years) and the burqa debate going on now are denounced by many incl me in my
article as sexist (way before we start talking about racism).

hope some of this at least is useful

Associate Professor Bronwyn Winter
Dept of French Studies
Program Director, International and Comparative Literary Studies
School of Languages and Cultures

Associate Dean and Chair, Undergraduate Committee
Faculty of Arts 
University of Sydney
NSW  2006  Australia

Email: bronwyn.winter  AT  usyd.edu.au

Date: Tue, 8 Dec 2009 21:59:10 -0500
From: Amal Amireh <aamireh AT GMU.EDU>
Subject: Re: readings and films on the Burka
See Marnia Lazreg new book Questioning the Veil: Open Letters to Muslim
Women, Princeton UP, 2009.

Amal Amireh
Associate Professor of English
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA
Date: Wed, 9 Dec 2009 09:49:11 +0100
From: Chia Longman <Chia.Longman AT UGENT.BE>
Subject: Re: readings and films on the Burka

for those interested in veiling issues in Europe (apart from France) I can
refer to the  comparative  veil project at http://www.univie.ac.at/veil

and my own publications (in English) on Belgium - the debates and policies
show parallels but also many differences across European countries:

'Gendering the Diversification of Diversity? The Belgian Hijab (in)
Question', /Ethnicities/, special issue 'The rights of women and the crisis
of multiculturalism', 8(3), 2008, pp. 302-321 (with G. Coene).

'Over our Heads? Muslim Women as Symbols and Agents in the Headscarf Debate
in Flanders, Belgium', /Social// Justice./ /Anthropology, Peace and Human
Rights /, vol. 4, nrs. 3-4, 2003, 300-332. 

Dr. Chia Longman
Lecturer & Postdoctoral Fellow in Gender and Diversity Studies
Ghent University
Rozier 44, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium
chia.longman  AT  UGent.be

Date: Wed, 9 Dec 2009 05:21:31 -0500
From: keileraas AT WESLEYAN.EDU
Subject: Re: readings and films on the Burka
Yes- if you are interested in representing these wider debates about head
covering and state regulation of women's appearance, there is a vast pool
of resources from which to draw. I would agree with many of these
recommendations, including Marnia Lazreg's new book.
I would also add the following:
(1)a film by the Canadian Film Board called "Under One Sky";
(2)an essay by Homa Hoodfar entitled " The Veil On Our Minds and In Their
Heads..." in the anthology "The Politics of Culture in the Shadow of
(3)an anthology by David Bailey entitled "Veil: Veiling, Representation,
and COntemporary Art"; and
(4)Leila Ahmed's book "Women and Gender in Islam".

karina eileraas
women's studies

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