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Representations of Muslim women and the veil: questions of image and voice
Unformatted Document Text:  clad from head to (nail-varnished) toe in the familiar blue burqa, and confidently berates the surrounding, and increasingly bewildered, Taliban about the conditions in the camp. The assertiveness and articulacy of her unhesitating tirade produces an acute contrast with the visual framing of the lone, helpless veiled woman surrounded by her oppressors. Later in the documentary, following the ‘liberation’ of Kabul, Amirani rediscovers the same woman in a different camp now controlled by the Northern Alliance. She has cast off her burqa, signalling, to a Western consciousness, freedom from constraint. But the image we are now shown accords with the Western norms of a passive and compliant femininity (intensified by the conventions of the ethnographic gaze at women from ‘other’ cultures). As a result, this articulate and courageous young woman is ironically co-opted within a conventional discourse of feminine quiescence that her representation in the anonymous protection of the burqa belied. Minus burqa, and now minus voice, this young woman can now be re-incorporated into a familiar discourse of compliant and submissive femininity. Granting the veiled woman voice confounds the simple associations of docility and victimhood that Western representations have forged around the veil, and requires attention to Muslim women’s diverse subjectivities, experiences and circumstances. The danger of incorporation of the Muslim woman’s voice within Western values has paradoxically grown since access to the media was loosened up in the wake of 9/11. As an understandable response to Islamophobia and the intensification of physical and verbal attacks on anyone who looked (vaguely, or even very vaguely) like a Muslim, the media have granted unprecedented airtime to Muslim women, especially in Britain and the US,

Authors: Macdonald, Myra.
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background image
clad from head to (nail-varnished) toe in the familiar blue burqa, and confidently berates
the surrounding, and increasingly bewildered, Taliban about the conditions in the camp.
The assertiveness and articulacy of her unhesitating tirade produces an acute contrast
with the visual framing of the lone, helpless veiled woman surrounded by her oppressors.
Later in the documentary, following the ‘liberation’ of Kabul, Amirani rediscovers the
same woman in a different camp now controlled by the Northern Alliance. She has cast
off her burqa, signalling, to a Western consciousness, freedom from constraint. But the
image we are now shown accords with the Western norms of a passive and compliant
femininity (intensified by the conventions of the ethnographic gaze at women from
‘other’ cultures). As a result, this articulate and courageous young woman is ironically
co-opted within a conventional discourse of feminine quiescence that her representation
in the anonymous protection of the burqa belied. Minus burqa, and now minus voice, this
young woman can now be re-incorporated into a familiar discourse of compliant and
submissive femininity. Granting the veiled woman voice confounds the simple
associations of docility and victimhood that Western representations have forged around
the veil, and requires attention to Muslim women’s diverse subjectivities, experiences
and circumstances.
The danger of incorporation of the Muslim woman’s voice within Western values has
paradoxically grown since access to the media was loosened up in the wake of 9/11. As
an understandable response to Islamophobia and the intensification of physical and verbal
attacks on anyone who looked (vaguely, or even very vaguely) like a Muslim, the media
have granted unprecedented airtime to Muslim women, especially in Britain and the US,


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