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(un)veiled: Muslim Women Talk About Hijab is a 37 minute ethnographic film directed and edited by Ines Hofmann Kanna that was released in 2007. The film focuses on a selection of Muslim women living in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and hears what they have to say about the hijab. Especially in such a multi-cultural place as Dubai, not everyone, not even all Muslim women, wear hijab and the film asks these women what is means to them, what it means to others in society and what they really think about it.
The discussion surrounding veiling has existed for many years, but has become increasingly controversial following the rising number of terrorist attacks throughout the Western world. The question I would like to focus on is that of the ‘oppression’ of the “3rd world woman”, as quoted by feminist scholar Chandra Talpade Mohanty. While studying her work, “Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses”, one of the questions that arises is the following: can we make moral claims condemning culturally specific practices that aren’t ours? Similar to Abu-Lughod’s “Do Muslim Women Need Saving?”, the essay critiques work done outside of the field and reminds me of the ways in which Westerners use the ‘oppressive’ nature of veiling as a justification for American military involvement in the Middle East as a means of ‘liberating’ women (the “3rd world woman”).
Both essays and the documentary provide great insight into how people view different veiling practices and the history behind them, along with rising questions of morality and cultural condemnation.
Ines Hofmann Kanna’s film introduces 10 Muslim women, all of different backgrounds, who live in Dubai to the audience. The camera follows their discussion on the hijab, or headscarf, and veiling practices in Dubai and the different countries they have visited at the same time as a lecture on the same topic is orchestrated, banned, and presented anyway by a white Muslim woman. While typically many Muslim women are seen as oppressed by men and their own religion, this documentary reveals the diverse world of women in Islam and how veiling plays a role in it.
Muslim women face an immense amount of kick-back for their faith. The ‘liberated’ white woman will say, “how can you believe in a God that forces you into submission?” This ‘liberated’ white woman does not know Islam. The “3rd world woman” that Mohanty speaks of is not really the Muslim woman, but what the Western, or “1st”, world wants her to be. It was refreshing to see and hear real Muslim women speak about veiling and their faith, because the way it is typically seen in America and how the media portrays it is very different than what is truly is. This film illustrates the truth of Islam’s variety among countries and people and fits very well with the themes of the Abu-Lughod and Mohanty articles. In Abu-Lughod’s writing, she says that Muslim women do not need to be saved; they are painted as oppressed and villainous, but are only humans practicing their religion.
Many natives of the “1st” world do not seem to understand the history or true concept of Islam or scarving practices among women. This lack of knowledge and communication between cultures can severely damage relationships and understanding. This documentary shows the Western world what it too often chooses to ignore so as to justify its violent actions in the name of liberation. But, in reality, there is more to gender equality than the hijab and less to the hijab than rescue missions.
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