The racialization of Muslim veils: A philosophical analysis

Philosophy and Social Criticism 36 (8):875-902 (2010)

Abstract

This article goes behind stereotypes of Muslim veiling to ask after the representational structure underlying these images. I examine the public debate leading to the 2004 French law banning conspicuous religious signs in schools and French colonial attitudes to veiling in Algeria, in conjunction with discourses on the veil that have arisen in other western contexts. My argument is that western perceptions and representations of veiled Muslim women are not simply about Muslim women themselves. Rather than representing Muslim women, these images fulfill a different function: they provide the negative mirror in which western constructions of identity and gender can be positively reflected. It is by means of the projection of gender oppression onto Islam, and its naturalization to the bodies of veiled women, that such mirroring takes place. This constitutes, I argue, a form of racialization. Drawing on the work of Fanon, Merleau-Ponty and Alcoff, I offer a phenomenological analysis of this racializing vision. What is at stake is a form of cultural racism that functions in the guise of anti-sexist and feminist liberatory discourse, at once posing a dilemma to feminists and concealing its racializing logic

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