My only knowledge of the veil came from my friend who was in Iran. She would send me pictures of herself dressed all in back at school with nothing but her face showing and tell me about how oppressive it was to be forced to always be dressed in the veil. She is not a Muslim, and so to her it was a symbol of oppression and ignorance. I guess it is hard for me to understand what that might be like. In the end I think the only way I can identify is by thinking of a similar restriction. For example, I can’t go around town naked. This doesn’t bother me because I like putting cloths on, but to someone else that might be seen as oppressive. In this case I am the Muslim woman because I’m happy having to wear cloths outside, and my friend would be the liberated woman who wants to be nude and free. In the end I have never spent much time thinking about the veil. It was obviously something that was bad when enforced and I had no question of it because my friend told me first hand what it was like for her. But on the other side, I have always had respect from the women I see with the veil because I know here they have a choice and that they must be strong to stick with it.
I got a lot of other information from P. Catto, my teacher. She not only covered the historical origin of the veil, in terms of the Koran and the meaning it had for Mohammed and his wives, but she also explained it as an archetype. I have never thought of the veil as an archetype, but it made sense. The image of a woman in a veil brings up an inexhaustible well of ideas and feelings. Catto pointed out that it is a symbol of a symbol, which makes it even more potent. It is the mystery of the woman. It invokes a curiosity. It also transforms the woman. I know it’s a tricky subject but I wish Catto had talked a little about her definition of freedom. I did enjoy listening to Catto, but my feelings about it are the same.
In today’s world, as far as I know it in the US, the veil is basically choice. It can be connected to religion. There are many Muslin women who don’t choose to ware the vial. It is the same as any religion that suggests a dress for its followers. The Amish and Jehovah Witnesses are also easy to recognize, and they are also made fun of because of their dress. I don’t think that the type of person who makes fun of religious fashion is much different from the type that critiques every other strange fashion. It is always the same problem of fighting against the ignorant racists of the world that look at any difference they can find and try to make it a weak quality worth of persecution in the other.
I believe the veil is a strong archetype but so are long hair, skirts, red lips, and many other symbols that women use and struggle with when creating their identity. I don’t think the veil is a controversy because of its archetypal meaning, nor it’s connection to the Muslim religion, but because in the east the veil is a dress code strictly enforced by the state. I believe the real issue is the battle between the individual and the collective, or the state. I also think the media would like to make the veil less a symbol of the woman, and more a symbol of the universal battle for freedom to help make propaganda for this war between the west and east. But like Catto said, you can’t own a symbol and make it what you want. I look forward to the time when the current political climate gives up tying to control the meaning of the veil and allows it simply to be what it is.