Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Book Review: The Veil

"Getting behind the veil"
02/08/2008, in the Telegraph.com.uk

Kamila Shamsie reviews The Veil: Women Writers on Its History, Lore and Politics, edited by Jennifer Heath.
"It can be illusion, vanity, artifice, deception, liberation, imprisonment, euphemism, divination, concealment, hallucination, depression, eloquent silence, holiness, the ethers beyond consciousness..." And that's only the first half of the sentence.
The Veil is well aware of the reasons why the veil has become such a paradoxically visible entity in the past few years, and counters this with the opening sentence of its first essay, by Mohja Kahf, which bluntly asserts: "Veiling - covering the head with a piece of fabric, and sometimes the face as well - predates Islam."

That sentence both acknowledges the connotations attached to the veil in the contemporary West and tries to make the reader consider the term more broadly - a strategy continued through much of the book, with considerable success.

Read the full review at the title link above. Find a link to this book at Amazon in the sidebar here, right. Product Description as found on Amazon follows:
This groundbreaking volume, written entirely by women, examines the vastly misunderstood and multilayered world of the veil. Veiling-- of women, of men, and of sacred places and objects--has existed in countless cultures and religions from time immemorial. Today, veiling is a globally polarizing issue, a locus for the struggle between Islam and the West and between contemporary and traditional interpretations of Islam. But veiling was a practice long before Islam and still extends far beyond the Middle East. This book explores and examines the cultures, politics, and histories of veiling. Twenty-one gifted writers and scholars, representing a wide range of societies, religions, ages, locations, races, and accomplishments, here elucidate, challenge, and/or praise the practice. Expertly organized and introduced by Jennifer Heath, who also writes on male veiling, the essays are arranged in three parts: the veil as an expression of the sacred; the veil as it relates to the emotional and the sensual; and the veil in its sociopolitical aspects. This unique, dynamic, and insightful volume is illustrated throughout. It brings together a multiplicity of thought and experience, much of it personal, to make readily accessible a difficult and controversial subject.

See also the review of "The Veil" in the Timesonline.co.uk,
The articles here are thoughtful, intelligent and each tells an individual story. But readers seeking a more historically nuanced analysis would do better to turn to Joan Wallach Scott's recent book, The Politics of the Veil (Princeton University Press). This volume, however, is more personal, intimate even, urging us to focus on more serious threats to women's lives, including wars that claim to bring liberty while raining down bombs.
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