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To Veil or not to Veil

Europe’s Shape-Shifting ‘Other’


Kamakshi P. Murti

Immigration has become a contentious issue in Europe in recent decades, with immigrants being accused of resisting integration and threatening the secular fabric of nationhood. The most extreme form of this unease has invented and demonized an Islamic ‘other’ within Europe. This book poses central questions about this global staging of difference. How has such anxiety increased exponentially since 9/11? Why has the Muslim veil been singled out as a metaphor in debates about citizenship? Lastly, and most fundamentally, who sets the criteria for constructing the ideal citizen?
This study explores the issue of gender and immigration in the national contexts of Germany and France, where the largest minority populations are from Turkey and North Africa, respectively. The author analyzes fictional works by the Turkish-German writers Emine Sevgi Özdamar and Zafer Şenocak and by Francophone writer Malika Mokeddem. All three deconstruct binary oppositions and envision an alternate third space that allows them to break out of the confines of organized religion. In the latter part of the book, the voices of young Muslim women are foregrounded through interviews. The concluding chapter on the pedagogical tool Deliberative Dialogue suggests ways to navigate such contentious issues in the Humanities classroom.


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Introduction Borderlands and Identities


The year was 2002 – a cold spring morning in Middlebury, Vermont. I hurriedly finished my daily walk and dashed into the nearby supermarket to get fresh hot rolls. As I headed for the baked goods aisle, a little boy pulled a lollipop out of his mouth, looked up at me and smiled. I smiled back. The clerk at the checkout counter greeted me with a welcoming beam, and sportingly laughed at my lame joke. I came out feeling connected with the world. That same evening, I returned to the supermarket to pick up some groceries. As I threaded my way through the aisles, the usual chatter seemed to die down; I felt rather than saw the many stares, some of them blatantly hostile. A little girl looked up at me, stabbed a chubby finger at her forehead, pointed at mine, and grinned. I grinned back. The clerk at the checkout counter did not meet my gaze. I cracked another silly joke and observed the clerk’s face cautiously relax into a reluctant grin. I came out saddened, not overly surprised at the way the planet had suddenly been sucked into a black hole. Simultaneously, my teacher’s instinct kicked in as I filed away this teaching moment for the sophomores and juniors at a local college who were attending my course “To Veil or not to Veil.” For my morning walk, I had worn a sweat suit, in the evening I was clad in a Punjabi,1 my customary professional attire, and...

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