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Veiled Intentions: The Cultural Mythology Of Veils, Harems, And Belly Dancers In The Service Of Empire, Security, And Globalization

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Abstract

In the contemporary context, mythologized figures of Arab womanhood, such as the seemingly ubiquitous image of the veiled woman and the persistent icon of the belly dancer, continue to operate as the visual vocabulary through which collective anxieties about new forms of power and progress manifest. If images of belly dancers and harem girls in twentieth-century tobacco advertisements reflect the disorientations of consumerism and expansionism in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century, contemporary images of Arab womanhood continue to be engaged with consumerism and expansionism in the context of contemporary U.S. neoliberalism and imperialism. In this chapter, I am interested in applying the trajectory of my argument thus far to representations of Arab and Muslim womanhood in what might be called the era of globalization, from the 1970s to the present. Like my analysis of the metanarrative of modernity, I will be investigating mainstream discourses of globalization in terms of their disavowal of the neocolonial and imperialist projects in which they are embedded.

Keywords

National Security Muslim Womanhood National Geographic Arab Womanhood Muslim World 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Grewal, Transnational America, 23. I would stress here that, like Grewal, I do not see globalization as a homogenous process, but rather I see it as adopting a universalizing conceit that has impacted the construction of orientalist imagery.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See Said, Covering Islam. Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    I use the term “mythology of the veil” in order to emphasize the flattened and orientalist notion of the “veil” that operates in this particular cultural mythology. I am well aware of the fact that the word “veil” is a problematic translation for the forms of head covering and dress that women wear in different parts of the Arab and Muslim worlds.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    These include USA Today, The Seattle Times, The Ottawa Citizen, The Independent (London), The Daily Telegraph (London), The Scotsman, The Daily Telegraph (Sydney), and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Mcginty, “The Saga.”Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Vejnoska, “Return to War-torn Landscape.”Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    This is especially true given National Geographics long-standing mission to present edifying and scholarly material about the world outside the United States to its readers. See Lutz and Collins, Reading National Geographic, 24.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Hirschkind and Mahmood, “Politics of Counter-Insurgency,” 342–346.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Puar and Rai, “Monster, Terrorist, Fag.”Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    See also Abu-Lughod, “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving?”Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Lutz and Collins, Reading National Geographic, 76.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    In his critique of the documentary In Search of the Afghan Girl, Chengzhi imaginatively attributes such thoughts to the girl when he suggests that “If they are capable of pressing the shutter with a show of friendliness, they are just as capable of pulling the gun trigger with a show of pleasure.” See Chengzhi, “The Eyes,” 487.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Connor, “The Portrait.”Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    The “war on terror” rhetoric deployed by the George W. Bush administration is clearly related to Reagan’s “war on terrorism,” a connection to which I will return in the national security section of this chapter.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Croutier, Harem, 201.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    The 1956 Suez crisis is sometimes referenced as a demonstrative moment in the shifting relationship between the United States and United Kingdom, during which the former emerged as an eminent superpower and United Kingdom recognized its own future dependence on the United States to act as a global power.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Hartnett and Stengrim, Globalization and Empire, 86.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    McCurry, “Special Report.”Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Newman, “A Life Revealed.”Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Appadurai, Modernity at Large, 33.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    In Search of the Afghan Girl, VHS, directed by Lawrence Cumbo.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Caner, Voices Behind the Veil; Latifa, My Forbidden Face; Logan, Unveiled; Parshall and Parshall, Lifting the Veil; Sasson, Princess. Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    A few of these are Enloe’s Bananas, Beaches, and Bases, in which she talks about the veil as appropriated by a nationalist movement; Mohanty’s “Under Western Eyes,” in which she cites the veil as one example of the way in which the category of “third world women” had been conceptualized as a monolithic mass in mainstream feminist scholarship; and, more recently, Abu-Lughod’s “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving?” in which she talks about popular U.S. perceptions of the veil as monolithic signifier. See also Lazreg’s, The Eloquence of Silence, 14.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Leibovitz, Women, 20.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    The photograph only reaches to her shoulders, but the style of covering indicates that it is full-length.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    These particular elements of the image are, in fact, so common that they have come to be used on the covers of books by or about Arab and/or Arab American women even when the authors of the book critique such images. See, for example, Darraj’s article “Personal and Political.”Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Ahmed, “Western Ethnocentrism,” 522.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Sontag, “A Photograph,” 35.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Ibid., 23.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Lazreg, The Eloquence of Silence, 136.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Sontag, “A Photograph,” 24.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    There are other women who are photographed against a gray background; however, it is interesting to note that many of them are also women of color.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    el Guindi, Veil, 7.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition, s.v. “veil”Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Barthes, “Myth Today,” in Mythologies, 142–3.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    el Guindi, Veil, 96.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Fanon, A Dying Colonialism. Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    See Ahmed, “The Veil Debate - Again” and Under One Sky, VHS, directed by Kawaja.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    See Deeb, An Enchanted Modern, and Mahmood, Politics of Piety. Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Shirazi, The Veil Unveiled, 7–9.Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Lazreg, The Eloquence of Silence, 127.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    See the introduction to Kahf’s Western Representations of the Muslim Woman for her description of the way this association colors her students’ reading of powerful or aggressive Muslim women characters in premodern western literature.Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    Barthes, “The Photographic Message,” 200.Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    Another reading has been suggested to me, in which her stance and gaze can be read as a replication of the kind of pose that is presented in other athletic ads directed at women in the United States. This reading implies that Reebok advertisers seek to exploit an ambivalent reading, or a simultaneous identification with and distancing from the image on the part of a mainstream U.S. audience. The notion of ambivalence is certainly applicable to this context, and suggests a link to the kind of analysis Lott employs in Love and Theft. Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    Williams, The Country and the City, 35.Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    Williams, The Country and the City. Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    Ahmed, Women and Gender in Islam. Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    Ibid., 152.Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    Saliba, “Military Presences and Absences,” 132.Google Scholar
  50. 50.
  51. 51.
    Alloula, The Colonial Harem, 7. Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    Ibid., 118.Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    Chow, “Where Have All the Natives Gone?” 125–151.Google Scholar
  54. 54.
    I have chosen not to reproduce the image here because I believe that representations necessarily enact a kind of violence on the subject they portray and, in the case of this image which is so clearly embedded in colonialist patriarchal violence, I am not willing to reenact the explicit and metaphorical exposure of Algerian womanhood.Google Scholar
  55. 55.
    Wilke’s performance art and photography often plays on the theme of female nudity; it is not uncommon for her to have bare breasts in her art. However, I am interested here in the logic of the juxtaposition between covering her head, mouth, and shoulders, and revealing her breasts.Google Scholar
  56. 56.
    Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure.”Google Scholar
  57. 57.
    Jones, Body Art. Google Scholar
  58. 58.
    Frueh, “Essay,” 73.Google Scholar
  59. 59.
    Jones, Body Art, 155, emphasis mine.Google Scholar
  60. 60.
    I have not been able to find a statement by Wilke herself about that particular image.Google Scholar
  61. 61.
    Isaak, “In Praise of Primary Narcissism,” 56.Google Scholar
  62. 62.
    Another example of this type of appropriation is the cover image of the January 2003 issue of Oneworld magazine, which depicts Lil’ Kim in a lingerie outfit that covers her face in a style mimicking the popular image of the burqa. The cloth of the lingerie then drops away to reveal her nearly completely exposed and sexualized body. She seems to be playing on the notion of the burqa as a symbol of the oppression of female sexuality to demonstrate, in contrast, her own sexual liberation. In this move, then, she is replicating the logic implied in Sontag’s remarks, in which sexual freedom is equated with revealing one’s body.Google Scholar
  63. 63.
    Blue Star PR, “Frequently Asked Questions.”Google Scholar
  64. 64.
    The correct (and now more widely used) transliteration of this word is sheikh, rather than sheik. However, I use sheik here both to reference its interpretation in the United States, through popular films like The Sheik, as a greedy, licentious, or romantic character rather than a spiritual or community leader.Google Scholar
  65. 65.
    Maira, “Arab-Face and Indo-Chic.”Google Scholar
  66. 66.
    For more on the history of the “sheik” character in U.S. popular culture, see Caton, “The Sheik.”Google Scholar
  67. 67.
    Shohat and Stam, Unthinking Eurocentrism, 156–57.Google Scholar
  68. 68.
    See Shaheen’s analysis of Cannonball Run II in Reel Bad Arabs and Stockton’s analysis of an oil sheik cartoon in “Ethnic Archetypes and the Arab Image.”Google Scholar
  69. 69.
    I am borrowing from, and building on, McAlister’s analysis of the phrase “benevolent supremacy” as a useful summary for U.S. national security strategy in the early 1950s. See McAlister, Epic Encounters. Google Scholar
  70. 70.
    McAlister, Epic Encounters, 47.Google Scholar
  71. 71.
    One of the most influential national security documents during the postwar era was NSC-68. I will provide a fuller analysis of NSC-68 in the “Benevolent Empire” section, in which I compare it to the more recent document, NSSUS.Google Scholar
  72. 72.
    Indeed, this is confirmed by a U.S. State Department report cited in McAlister, Epic Encounters, 134.Google Scholar
  73. 73.
    See Little, American Orientalism, 50, for a fuller discussion of the relationship between national security and U.S. access to oil in the Middle East.Google Scholar
  74. 74.
    See Alsultany, “Changing Profile of Race in the United States.”Google Scholar
  75. 75.
    I am following Lee’s analysis of a similar shift in perceptions of Asian American racial difference from “distant” and “exotic” to “present” and “threatening.” Lee, Orientals, 28.Google Scholar
  76. 76.
    Lee, Orientals, 28.Google Scholar
  77. 77.
    See McAlister, Epic Encounters, 135 and 137 for examples.Google Scholar
  78. 78.
    See Stockton, “Ethnic Archetypes and the Arab Image,” for examples.Google Scholar
  79. 79.
    Chapman, License to Thrill, 178.Google Scholar
  80. 80.
    Black, The Politics of James Bond, 137. Google Scholar
  81. 81.
    Ibid., 138.Google Scholar
  82. 82.
    Ibid., 137. See also Bennett and Woollacott, Bond and Beyond, 191.Google Scholar
  83. 83.
    Shohat and Stam, Unthinking Eurocentrism, 169.Google Scholar
  84. 84.
    Puar and Rai, “Monster, Terrorist, Fag.”Google Scholar
  85. 85.
    Said’s Covering Islam, published two years after the end of the Iran “hostage crisis,” traces an American media construction of Islam as a monolithic force that is oppositional to a more “advanced” West.Google Scholar
  86. 86.
    For an analysis of the sitcom I Dream of Jeannie, see Abraham, “Hollywood’s Harem Housewife.”Google Scholar
  87. 87.
    See McAlister, Epic Encounters, 47–55 for a fuller discussion of NSC-68.Google Scholar
  88. 88.
    Bush’s rhetoric in his “World Freedom Day Proclamation,” issued November 9, 2001, replicates this logic: “On World Freedom Day, we also honor those who, at this moment, fight for freedom half a world away. On September 11, freedom was attacked, but liberty and justice will prevail. Like the fall of the Berlin Wall and the defeat of totalitarianism in Central and Eastern Europe, freedom will triumph in this war against terrorism.” (U.S. Government, “World Freedom Day.”)Google Scholar
  89. 89.
    Quoted in Hartnett and Stengrim, Globalization andEmpire, 110. See also U.S. Government, “President’s Radio Address from Shanghai”: “The terrorists attacked the World Trade Center. They fear trade because they understood [sic] that trade brings freedom and hope. We’re in Shanghai to advance world trade, because we know that trade can conquer poverty and despair. In this struggle of freedom against fear, the outcome is not in doubt—freedom will win. And it will bring new hope to the lives of millions of people in Asia and throughout the world.”Google Scholar
  90. 90.
    Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity and Jameson, “Postmodernism.”Google Scholar
  91. 91.
    Jameson, “Postmodernism,” 57.Google Scholar
  92. 92.
    See Sandoval, Methodology of the Oppressed; Grewal and Kaplan, Scattered Hegemonies; Jakobsen, “Can Homosexuals End Western Civilization As We Know It?”; Grewal Transnational America. Google Scholar
  93. 93.
    Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity, 147.Google Scholar
  94. 94.
  95. 95.
    Ibid., 164.Google Scholar
  96. 96.
  97. 97.
    Ibid., 42.Google Scholar
  98. 98.
    Williams, The Country and the City, 35.Google Scholar
  99. 99.
  100. 100.
    Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity, 44.Google Scholar
  101. 101.
    See Kalmar, “The Houkah in the Harem,” 219, for a pictorial representation. I was not able to secure permission to reproduce the image here, because, as an R.J. Reynolds representative explained in her June 7, 2007 e-mail to me, “our company’s products and brand communications are intended only for legal-age smokers, and we go to great lengths to ensure that our brand communications are placed only in appropriate publications. We follow careful guidelines to minimize the exposure of minors to tobacco advertising.”Google Scholar
  102. 102.
    The image of the silhouetted belly dancer does not only appear in this promotional advertising scheme—she is also represented in “live” form in a Camel magazine published to promote the “seven pleasures of the exotic” parties. Snapshots from the party feature a belly dancer silhouetted against the backlight of the stage with her arms raised in a series of stoic, sphinx-like gestures. “Seven Pleasures of the Exotic,” CML The City Edition. Google Scholar
  103. 103.
    Jameson, “Postmodernism,” 63.Google Scholar
  104. 104.
    Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity, 44.Google Scholar
  105. 105.
    Ibid., 104.Google Scholar
  106. 106.
    See Ma’s “Disney, It’s Like Re-Orients” in her book The Deathly Embrace for a similar analysis with respect to popular images of Asian American culture.Google Scholar
  107. 107.
    Jameson, “Postmodernism,” 68.Google Scholar
  108. 108.
    Ibid., 66.Google Scholar
  109. 109.
    Ibid., 68.Google Scholar
  110. 110.
    Sandoval, Methodology of the Oppressed. Google Scholar

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© Amira Jarmakani 2008

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