This is not a part of my essay on The Veil.
The icon is a clandestinely taken shot of the public execution, allegedly by her brother-in-law, of Zarmina. The alleged facts of the case are here
, at the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan website.
I'm interested in locating the fallacies in my thinking about Zarmina and The Veil, as well as those who argue against it.
I have used Zarmina's execution as the symbol for why the veil should not be worn. The riposte is, she wasn't killed for wearing, or not wearing, a veil.
I disagree. I think people whose faces you can't see are much easier to kill, with your bare hands, and to deprive of every other right, legal, sharia, civil, human, than people whose faces you can see. I think covering faces is the fundamental act of dehumanizing women into brood mares and beasts of burden of whom you are permitted to have several, and who you are permitted to divorce, disown and to kill basically with impunity, and therefore, to deny literacy, and work outside the home even if she is divorced or widowed. I think it is the objective correlative of a legal system designed to sub-humanize women. Literally, that if you cover your face you begin the process by which all these things will inevitably happen. You are covering your face so Other Men will not See you. Being Seen is the first step toward achievement of human status, and not the status demanded by fundies who say God has given us dominion
, which means the ruthlessly cruel treatment of women, children, and animals. I have a book
around here, which based on Benjamin-ish thought around modernity and identity, argues that Jews were first Seen in 19th century Paris as Haussmann's boulevards cut through medieval ghettoes and mixed everybody on the sidewalk. The argument is that once seen on the sidewalks of Paris, Jews inspired the virulent anti-semitism of the 20th century. Once citizens, once humans with whom one could make eye contact, their status becomes real.
(If I am arguing that covered, unseen women are more genocidally discriminated against than Seen ones, which I am, then unseen Jews would be more objectified and persecuted? Yes, I think that's true, though the Nazi genocide deployed elements of the previous millenia of racist objectification. Submission to the gaze is a terrible event, as Ralph Ellison would testify, but it is the first inevitable step to enfranchisement in the grinder of modernity in which we all live. Is it the veiled or the unveiled woman who is submitting? I deeply feel, and must think through, that it is the veiled woman (both in Muslim and non-Muslim society) who is acquiescing to gender performance as spectacle.)
I think you could say my argument is sort of based on genocide studies and Ralph Ellison, the creation of an Other who is murderable as a class of people
, beginning with saying they all look alike, and I do not see them.
I am not aware of any clinical research on this matter, except the MIlgram type of stuff in which Nice Young White People are perfectly willing to torture unveiled Nice Young White People. I'm saying that the line over which you pass to become literally a torturer and murderer is very, very fine and easily stepped across. Part of what's so disturbing about the veil is its genocidal taint, the fact that a whole class of people must cover their faces.
The Invisible Woman is a veiled woman. And it is the first lethal step to becoming the murderable woman. And, anybody in any Sharia legal case -- or indeed any other in any society -- who is wearing a face veil is going, I assure you, to be found guilty. It is -- and was, before 9/11 -- the universal marker for someone whose rights should not only be abrogated, but who is volunteering, by marking herself out, for abuse.
The best argument against this position is that Zarmina wasn't killed for wearing a veil, but killed for murdering her husband.
Let us just assume (which I do not) that the facts of her case as RAWA presents them are true. She killed her husband because he was torturing her and her children. She was executed publically in a stadium after being paraded around it in the back of a truck. Her execution was followed by public amputations of other miscreants.
She was immediately taken to prison following the death of her husband, with her baby twins. She was tortured, and she stayed in prison, with the children, for three years. There was no trial. Her older daughters, one of whom allegedly swung the sledge that killed their father, were allegedly sold as virgins to a man in Khost, and this event delayed Zarmina's execution. (This has the scent of bullshit, the delay.) With the girls fate made known to Zarmina, her execution followed summarily.
It was the centerpiece of a spectacle of Islamic justice which thousands attended. While they want you veiled, they also want thousands of people to see you shot through the head. Twice, since the first shot allegedly only creased her skull. They want you veiled possibly for the same reason they used to hood the heads of people to be hanged: either to make you a spectacle by erasing your identity, or out of kindness to the executioner who is not required to look you in the eye.
It is the veiling that makes you the cynosure of all eyes even in your own Taliban society. You are the spectacle and the example of sin which may publically -- by veiling in public, by execution in public -- be extirpated.
Veiling is the very act by which impunity is extended to a society which wishes to execute women without trial. It would be nice to say it is in itself an execution, but technically it is not. It is the first step in the Othering of women as a class of people who may be violated, along the lines of genocide, without sanction.
It was suicidal to wear a face veil before 9/11 and it is now, all over the world, the way to get your ass arrested. The pro-veil Muslim women say, it sets us on a pedestal to be cherished by our men.
In. your. dreams.
When it stops being your meal ticket? When they let you start to own your own children? We'll begin to talk.
Here's the video of the 1999 execution of Zarmina, shot, at the risk of her life, clandestinely by a RAWA worker -- from under her big blue burqa -- supplied with a camera with donations
from women all over the world, including me.http://www.rawa.org/zarmeena.htm
The other argument is the essentially nihilist/libertarian one, which is, to proscribe what women wear is to become a Talibani. It is basically the argument of Third Wave feminists, the reductio ad absurdum
of which is the flash of the hairless pillhead starlet crotch descending the SUV at Butter. Let them wear bulls' eyes so I can wear booty shorts to work. It is my wight
to be a spectacle. It is my wight
to expwess myself. May I point out that Britney is now under conservatorship and serious anti-psychotics, and Lilo is in jail? Oddly, both the crotch-flashing and the veil are part of the reduction of women to spectacle, with the appalling approbation of women who take the "performance" of gender to a contemptible fake liberation place. (The place where I look at Judy Chicago's
pussy on a platter Dinner Party
, and say, oh this is what you had to do -- more crassly than Hefner -- to get yourself into a museum? Shame on you. And
me. The place where I hear
the black drag queens saying I get more respect in women's clothes than I ever would as a black gay man, and the white ones saying, I get more attention as a beautiful woman than I do as an effeminate man.)
The you're-a-Nazi argument is pretty much beneath contempt, now that I think about it. It's the most petulant, narcissist and elitist of Suzy Creamcheese rhetoric. Expressing yourself is fine as long as you don't want to get a job, or an education, or the right to raise your own children. The only rule for intervention in somebody's life I have is a seriously thought-through and practiced one: Will I be complicit in this person's death if I do not say something?
It comes up surprisingly often, and while it rescues no one who does not wish to live, it might make a difference for those few who some day might want to try. But I do it for me.( The 6/11/10 NYT Piece About Albuquerque's Covered Women Which Started Me Thinking )