Propaganda posters distributed by the 5th Bureau of Psychological Action during the French colonial era in Algeria sought the veil, a presumed symbol of “otherness”, to be the target in a campaign of cultural erasure in Algeria. The posters played on Orientalist assumptions of submission under patriarchal norms in pre-colonial Algeria, using the removal of the veil as a signifier for liberation.
The poster above reads, “Are you not pretty? Unveil yourself!”. The veiled women illustrated in the background appear identical and their size suggests their insignificance. Meanwhile, the woman in the process of unveiling is well-defined and smiling; depicted as beautiful and satisfied. Such posters would often picture the unveiled woman as happy in contrast to her veiled counterparts, emphasizing the notion that public exhibition of physical beauty is an integral component of femininity. The language on the poster evokes a call to action; a demand to reclaim agency. The notion of veiled women lacking independence and being subdued under the patriarchy is one that persists today. In this way, the posters would often equate the idea of emancipation from patriarchy to the removal of the veil.
Such anti-veil sentiments culminated in the public unveiling ceremony of May 13th, 1958, when women were encouraged to remove and burn their veils. Some French men participated in removing the veils from the women, symbolic of the supposed “liberation” the French colonial project offered Algerian women and the “acceptance” of the colonizer.
The logic was that if women, playing key roles in culture, were to become gallicized, the rest of society would follow their lead. Ironically, this strategy was undermined by the fact that it was recognized as such, and Algerian women strengthened their ties with the veil as a symbol of patriotism. The body of the Muslim, Arabized Algerian woman therefore became the site of occupation and resistance, with the veil as its symbolizer.
Appropriation and Influence
Quebec Bill 21, 2019
Following Bill 62, in 2019, the Quebec government passed a bill that banned some public sector employees from wearing religious symbols while at work. These forced unveilings of some Muslim women signify a continuation of the French colonial project in Algeria.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney’s Speech, 2001
Rep. Carolyn Maloney delivered a speech to justify American military intervention in Afghanistan while wearing a burka. Her choice to don the veil as she spoke about the Taliban and women’s rights reflected an Orientalist connotation between the veil and patriarchal subjugation.
TIME Magazine Cover “Lifting the Veil”, 2001
The imagery of TIME’s 2001 issue cover holds the same mysticism of the Orientalist perspective: the woman appears to be at the hint of a smile with a tagline that reads “How much better will their lives be now?” in relation to American interference in Afghanistan. The War on Terror was heavily justified by suggesting the “emancipation” of Muslim women from patriarchy, symbolized by the veil. The cover perpetuates the notion of Western masculinity defined as benevolent and reinforces the Western saviour complex often applied to Muslim women.
Abu-Lughod, Lila. “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and Its Others.” American Anthropologist 104, no. 3 (2002): 783-90. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3567256.
Alloula, Malek, Myrna Godzich, Wlad Godzich, and Barbara Harlow. The Colonial Harem. Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1986.
El Guindi, Fadwa. “Contexts of Resistance.” In Veil: Modesty, Privacy and Resistance, 169–176. Dress, Body, Culture. Oxford: Berg, 1999.
El Guindi, Fadwa. “Hijab.” In The Berg Companion to Fashion, edited by Valerie Steele. Oxford: Bloomsbury Academic, 2010.
Falecka , Katarzyna. “From Colonial Algeria to Modern Day Europe, the Muslim Veil Remains an Ideological Battleground.” The Conversation UK. January 24, 2017. https://theconversation.com/from-colonial-algeria-to-modern-day-europe-the-muslim-veil-remains-an-ideological-battleground-70242.
Lambert, Léopold. “State Misogyny: France’s Colonial Unveiling History Against Muslim Women.” THE FUNAMBULIST. The Funambulist Magazine, August 2, 2017. https://thefunambulist.net/history/state-misogyny-frances-colonial-unveiling-history-against-muslim-women.
Seferdjeli, Ryme. “Algerian Veils & French Colonialism.” THE FUNAMBULIST MAGAZINE, no. 2, 2018.