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



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.


National Security Muslim Womanhood National Geographic Arab Womanhood Muslim World 
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    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
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    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
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    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
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© Amira Jarmakani 2008

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