Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Sexualising the Hijab: An intellectual attempt

A rather dubious three-day conference about Islamic veil, which is sponsored by, among others, the Canadian government (SSHRC) will be held from June 3 to 5 at York University and the University of Toronto. Missing surprisingly from the website are the names of individuals behind the event. The link to conference organizers is still showing under construction.


Most presenters are academics from abroad. Canadian presenters are mostly graduate students. I may also add that also missing from the programme are the researchers who have indeed studied veil seriously. The book titled The Muslim veil in North America, for instance, is a serious inquiry into understanding the underlying dynamics of veil in North America. Such serious authors/researchers are obviously absent from the roster.

I find the list of presenters amusing, which includes mostly western and non-veiled Muslim women intellectualising the Islamic veil. The key note speaker is Ellie Ragland from the University of Missouri who would enlighten the audience with her very topical presentation: “The Islamic Veil, the Phallus, and the Semblant.” I for one do not understand the relevance or the utility of such intellectual self-gratification. But I am only an engineer, not a philosopher!

A review of the presentation titles suggest that the non-Canadian academics are busy in a not-so-veiled attempt to sexualize the veil and hence the references to Freud and Lacan and presentation titles including expressions such as “Islamic swim suits”, “the phallus”, “virgin desire”, “over exposed and completely covered”, “purdah and castration”, “Seductive Piety”; or to commoditise it with presentations on “Veiling Mannequins”. The Canadian presenters (mostly graduate students) are addressing the run of the mill topics, such as “Is Punk Music Haram?”

Two Canadian academics of Iranian origin are also presenting. Nima Naghibi of Ryerson University will discuss “Compassionate Subjects, Objects of Compassion: The Unveiling of Neda and the Post-Election Protests in Iran.” While Neda’s death (seen all over the world on YouTube) was indeed a very tragic incident and the ill-treatment of her family after her death by the Iranian government was even more despicable, linking her tragic death to the narrative of veil is an interesting intellectual leap. Mahdi Tourage, an Assistant Professor at the University of Western Ontario, is attempting even a more daring intellectual summersault in his presentation titled, “The (Veiled) Phallus and the Erotics of Sacrifice in the Qur’anic Tale of Abel and Cain.” 

The academics indeed have a way of talking for three days without ever addressing the primary question being debated in the West: Does the State has the right to force women to put on a veil or to take it off.


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