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Reconstruction Vol. 10, No. 1, 2010


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Discourses of the Veil in Al-Jazeera English / Kenza


Oumlil
Abstract: This paper examines the coverage of the hijab or veil, as it is
popularly called in Western media, in the Al-Jazeera English website from April
25, 2003 to November 22, 2008. Headquartered in Doha, Qatar, Al Jazeera English is
one of the three largest English-language news channels worldwide launched after
Arabic-language Al Jazeera in order to appeal to an Anglophone demographic. The
analysis revealed that stories of the ban of the hijab in Europe occupied a
central theme in the corpus of data analyzed. This coverage isolated Western
countries as hostile to the hijab, demonstrating a climate of consistent
intolerance. However, the oppositional dynamic of Al Jazeera English is
compromised when it attempts to provide "the opinion and the other opinion." This
commitment to also verbalize dominant views led to the circulation of Western
establishmentarian narratives of the veil. Some of the key frames of this coverage
consist of the hijab as signifying male oppression, violence against women and as
a security threat.

Key words:Postcolonialism; Feminism; Race & Ethnicity

<1> Shortly after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, images of women lifting their
burqas were widely circulated in the Western press (Dana Cloud, 2004). These
images of women happily uncovering their faces suggested that Afghan women had
been liberated by the U.S and its allies. The simple act of uncovering, of lifting
the veil, seemed to have put an end to Afghan women's misery and oppression. The
visual and textual rhetoric of the oppression of Afghan women implied,
particularly through what was understood as the Islamic dress, that Islam
discriminates against women and is the cause of their oppression. The assumption
was that by uncovering women would fulfill feminist aspirations of attaining
equality, improve their condition, and ultimately result in their liberation. In
the United States, the question of gender equality was at the center of the
rhetoric of war during the preparation for the invasion of Afghanistan. The
discourse on Afghan women's oppression provided some of the building blocks and
rationale for the war (see for example, President Bush's Address to a Joint
Session of Congress and the American people, September 20, 2001).

<2> These images offered familiar tropes of female victimhood. Historically, Arab
and Muslim women have been portrayed as oppressed non-entities that need to be
saved from their backward culture and religion (Jack Shaheen, 2001). Such
representations are classic to colonial discourse which has frequently represented
colonized women as in need of saving. Ania Loomba (1998) states that:

in the colonial situation women were used as crucial markers of this


cultural difference. Colonisers regarded their position within the family
and within religious practices, in India, in Algeria, in South Africa,
and in countless other colonised countries, as indicative of a degenerate
culture. Reform of a woman's position thus became central to colonial
rule. Nationalists regarded this as colonial intrusion, and responded by
initiating reforms of their own, claiming that only they had the right to
intervene in these matters. Such tactics resulted in partial reform but
also recast, and sometimes strengthened, indigenous patriarchal practices
(p. 192).

The aim of this paper is to examine responses to dominant representations of the


hijab, burqa or any forms of covering commonly associated with Islam and Muslim
identity, and colloquially referenced as the 'veil' in Western media. More
specifically, it focuses on the construction of the hijab in Al Jazeera English,
which has been described as an 'alternative' media. Al Jazeera English constitutes
a unique case study as it is interested in "balancing the current typical
information flow by reporting from the developing world back to the West and from
the southern to the northern hemisphere."[1] Because it aims to report from the
south to the north, I am interested in the ways in which Al Jazeera English
responds to these dominant gendered and racialized representations.

Dominant Discourses of the Veil

<3> The eroticized desire to remove the veil during early colonialism is evident
in French print culture and in postcards depicting Algerian women undressing
(Bradford Vivian, 1999). This fantasized, sexualized, eroticism of the veil is
expressed through the desire to uncover the Muslim female body, to tear off the
veil (Meyda Yeğenoğlu, 1998). Because it is still dominant in contemporary France,
this colonial discourse has continued to thrive throughout these years. Myra
Macdonald (2006) also documents associations between unveiling and sexual fantasy
in western representations from the 19 th century, as well as the complicity of
Western women travelers who provided descriptions of the harem from the 'inside,'
hence complementing western men's colonial discourse.

<4> Acts of veiling/unveiling have carried important political implications since


colonial times. Removing the veil was seen as the symbolic marking of the success
of the colonial project. Hence, "while the French nationalist effort to remove the
veil intensified, the veil itself became a marker of resistance during the
Algerian War for Independence from 1954-1962" (Vivian, 1999, p. 127). During their
war of independence, Algerian women have utilized the veil as a symbol of defiance
(Ayotte and Husain, 2005) and as a tool of resistance (Frantz Fanon, 1963). Veiled
Algerian women acted as messengers and transported weapons underneath their dress
(Vivian, 1999; Frantz Fanon, 1963). The veil came to signify, in the French and
Western colonial psyche, resistance. On the other hand, Algerian women also
utilized unveiling as a form of resistance against colonialism. Some uncovered
their bodies, took the appearance of dominated women by wearing Western styles of
clothing and makeup, only to disguise their terrorist activities in France.
Veiling has also been used, more recently, as a tool of resistance against
patriarchal regimes of power. Afghan women have carried books, supplies, and
cameras beneath the burqas to document Taliban abuses (Ayotte and Husain, 2005).

<5> In its focus on identity as the primary ground for coIslamic veiling continues
to be presented as the visible signifier of Muslim women's oppression (Ayotte and
Husain, 2005; Sharon Todd, 1998; Judith Butler, 2004). The current obsession with
the veil is reminiscent of early colonial discourse. For example, Vivian (1999)
retraces this desire of seeing what is behind the veil to France's colonial
history: "the echoes of colonial ways of seeing resonate within this recent
struggle over the veil in French schools" (p. 117). Although veiling is not unique
to Islamic practices as it also takes place within Jewish and Christian
communities, media discourses are fixated on veiled Muslim female bodies and the
necessity of uncovering them and rarely differentiate between different forms of
covering the body. Thus, "analysis of the social, economic, and political
positioning of Muslim women within very different regimes is inhibited by a
fixation on veiling." (Myra Macdonald, 2006, p.7). Instead of addressing the
economic, political, and social sources of women's oppression, the media
communicate the colonial desire to unveil.

<6> Post-9/11 media reproduces the imagery of veiled Muslim 'Others.' Following
the September 11, 2001 terrorist acts, the circulation of images of veiled Muslim
women considerably increased, signifying women's oppression (Ayotte and Husain,
2005). Macdonald notes that "in the autumn of 2001, Afghanistan's blue burqa
became a suddenly familiar trope of oppressed womanhood" (p.10). Images of joyful
unveiling dominated the Western media landscape after the terrorist attacks. The
British and North American media circulated images of Afghan women happily taking
off their burqas to symbolize their new liberation. (Ayotte and Husain, 2005;
MacDonald, 2006; Meghana Nayak, 2006; & Butler, 2004). Butler (2004) analyzes the
circulation of photographs of veiled Afghan women in the New York Times:

According to the triumphalist photos that dominated the front page of the
New York Times, these young women bared their faces as an act of
liberation, an act of gratitude to the US military, an expression of a
pleasure that had become suddenly and ecstatically permissible. The
American viewer was ready, as it were, to see the face, and it was to the
camera, after all that the face was finally bared, where it became, in a
flash, a symbol of successfully exported American cultural progress. It
became bared to us, at that moment, and we were, as it were, in
possession of the face; not only did our cameras capture it, but we
arranged for the face to capture our triumph, and act as the rationale
for our violence, the incursion of sovereignty, the deaths of civilians
(p.142)

<7> It appears that in distinct Western countries, veiling has consistently been
met with intolerance. Vivian (1999) analyzes the coverage of the French Education
Minister Francois Bayrou's attempt to ban the Muslim veil from public schools in
the French press in 1994. Vivian explains that "the veil had to be removed, in
Bayrou's own words, because it is the symbol of Islam" (p. 116). The French press
linked wearing the veil with 'fundamentalism' and 'terrorism,' leading to the
expulsion of French-Muslim girls from school because they refused to unveil, even
though there has been no evidence that veiling is linked to terrorist acts. In the
American context, Macdonald (2006) documents this trend: "the media were so
obsessed with unveiling as a symbol of the success of Western interventionism"
(p.11). In Quebec, Sharon Todd (1998) reaches a similar conclusion. The
francophone press in Quebec also dismissed the many meanings and symbols of
veiling for Muslim women within the West and outside of its borders. Instead, the
coverage linked Muslim religious practices symbolized by the veil with women's
oppression, particularly via allusions to women obliged to wear the veil in Iran
and Algeria.

<8> Considering such a hostile western climate vis-a-vis the veil, it is thus
interesting to examine how Al Jazeera English responds to these dominant
discourses. Sam Cherribi (2006) conducted a similar analysis in his study of the
coverage of the veil in France from 2002 to 2005 focusing on the Arabic section of
Al Jazeera. The most interesting part of his analysis indicates that Al Jazeera
"championed" the cause of the veil. He argues that "Al Jazeera is using the issue
of the veil in France to influence viewers in France and Europe, build a common
Muslim identity, mobilize a shared public opinion, and construct an imagined
transnational community" (p. 121). According to Cherribi, Al Jazeera, an "Islamic"
organization, presented the issue of the ban of the veil as constituting a problem
for Muslim women and men globally. Whereas Cherribi recognizes that Al Jazeera has
influenced Arab governments and has been a major source of information on
Afghanistan, Iraq, Osama Bin Laden, and the Taliban, he argues that it has also
carried a religious message, revealed through its advertisements of Islamic
clothing. He contends that these advertisements encourage women to buy and wear
the veil. The insistent and persistent coverage of the veil suggests, in his view,
that Al Jazeera perceived and constructed it as an issue of significant
importance.

Background on Al Jazeera

<9> Most of the literature on Al Jazeera has focused on the Arabic-speaking


channel (Khalil Rinawi, 2006; El-Naway and Adel Iskander, 2003; Mohamed Zayani and
Sofiane Sahraoui, 2007; Philip Seib, 2008). Such interest is understandable
considering that Al Jazeera, which has set the Arab news agenda since the 1990s,
today exercises unprecedented influence on major news networks such as the BBC and
CNN. Following the events of September 11, 2001, Al Jazeera emerged as a major
source of news in the West.[2] Furthermore, it has been heavily criticized and
opposed since its creation. For example, "in November 2001, the American President
George Bush asked the pro-American Qatari government to exert pressure upon Al-
Jazeera to alter its broadcasts" (Khalil Rinawi, 2006, ix).

<10> The literature on Al Jazeera English is limited, although it is the first


global English language news channel headquartered in the Middle East
(English.aljazeera.net, 2008).[3] Most texts only mention the English channel in
passing or provided a limited analysis in singular chapters (Josh Rushing, 2007;
Hugh Miles, 2005). In 2003, Al Jazeera launched an English language website to
target a global audience (Rushing, 2007). Part of its mission is "to give voice to
untold stories, promote debate, and challenge established perceptions", and to
"set the news agenda, bridging cultures and providing a unique grassroots
perspective from under-reported regions around the world." While Al Jazeera
English is editorially distinct, it nonetheless shares resources with its Arabic
counterpart.

<11> Al Jazeera English presents an interesting case study. On the one hand, it
has attracted activists in the West who view it as alternative. It has been
perceived as providing counter-hegemonic content. Nevertheless, Iskander (2005)
argues that Al Jazeera's motto "the opinion and the other opinion" puts it in a
position where it also has to verbalize establishmentarian narratives.
Furthermore, Al Jazeera's 'native' journalists and editors are Western-trained and
educated, which complicates categorizing them as 'indigenous' reporters. It is
also a non-collective media enterprise (Iskandar, 2005). From a political economic
standpoint, the organization continues to be funded by the emir of Qatar, Prince
Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, as well as through commercial revenue generated from
the sales of footage, documentary, direct feeds, and advertising for large global
corporations. Finally, its status as an alternative medium is difficult to
delineate because it has had a major 'mainstream' impact in both Arab and global
media landscapes.

Tracking the Veil in Al Jazeera English

<12> A search conducted on the Al Jazeera English website using the keywords
"veil," "hijab," "burka," and "burqa" generated a higher number of hits than a
parallel Factiva database search using the same key words. The Al Jazeera English
website generated a total of 181 articles from April 25, 2003 to November 22,
2008. In the sections that follow, I examine these articles in more depth. Because
this analysis is interested in revealing how Al Jazeera English constructed the
veil, my focus was on the frames utilized to make sense of the issue. The term
"veil" is used in this context as an umbrella term to refer to various forms of
Islamic covering.

<13> Robert Entman's conceptualization of framing defines it as "selecting and


highlighting some facets of events or issues, and making connections among them so
as to promote a particular interpretation, evaluation, and/or solution" (2003, p.
417). I focus on the frames presented in this coverage. This analysis is based on
what Entman describes as the principles of cultural resonance and magnitude which
are key to the construction of frames. Cultural resonance refers to what is
salient in a culture, "noticeable, understandable, memorable, and emotionally
charged" (Entman, 2003, p. 417). Culturally-resonant frames exercise the most
significant influence. Resonance may replace the need for magnitude as some words
and/or images have a great impact on public consciousness and do not require to be
repeated. The principle of magnitude uncovers the 'prominence' and repetition of
the framing words and images. Entman indicates that "the more resonance and
magnitude, the more likely the framing is to evoke similar thoughts and feelings
in large portions of the audience" (p. 417).

<14> According to Entman, substantive news frames function in at least two of the
following ways: "defining effects or conditions as problematic;" "identifying
causes;" "conveying a moral judgment of those involved in the framed matter;"
and/or "endorsing remedies or improvements to the problematic situation" (p. 417).
In the case of September 11, 2001, the problematic effect was the death of
thousands of civilians during the attack on U.S. soil; the cause was terrorism;
the moral judgment consisted of framing the perpetrators as terrorists; and the
response was to launch a war on terror (Entman, 2003). Whereas Entman explains
that these four frames jointly function to shape understanding and to hold
together a certain cultural logic, he also specifies that the two most important
functions are the definition of the problem and the remedy. Defining the problem
sets up the rest of the frame and the remedy encourages support or opposition to
government action.

Al Jazeera English's Mediation of the Veil

<15> The following section summarizes the results of this analysis of the coverage
of the veil in Al Jazeera-English. It relies on Entman's principles of 'magnitude'
and 'cultural resonance' to identify which frames were selected and highlighted.

Magnitude

<16> In terms of magnitude, the oppositional dynamic of Al Jazeera English appears


in the extensive coverage of the ban of the veil and of the resulting
discriminatory practices in Europe. What is noteworthy in this coverage is how it
focuses on distinct European countries, including Ireland, the Netherlands, Italy,
the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, and France, which were covered most
extensively. The French ban of the veil was a significant turning point as it
inspired the adoption of similar legislation in other European countries. This
coverage of the ban in European countries was conducted in a detailed and context-
specific manner. Readers were given the opportunity to follow the evolution of the
legislation in each country and stories of court cases focusing on the right to
wear the veil. Furthermore, reports on the opposition to the enactment of such
legislation, as well as stories of discrimination were also circulated. The
interesting message, in this case, seems to be that although each European country
has its own legislation, governing body, and political system, they speak the same
language in terms of the veil. An example of the language deployed appears in an
October 26, 2006 story, which reports on the European Commission President's (Jose
Manuel Barroso) description of veiling as an "obstacle" to communication. Barroso
is quoted as saying: "If a person wants to communicate she can't present herself
with a veil that covers her entire face, except for a small opening of the eyes.
It's clear that that's an obstacle."

<17> Al Jazeera English reported on the criticism, demonstrations, protests, and


outcry against the French ban of the veil. Stories of a demonstration in Cairo,
Egypt (February, 2004), criticism of the legislation in Lebanon (December 20,
2003) and in Malaysia (February 10, 2004), as well as the Iranian condemnation of
the French ban of the hijab (February 10, 2004) were heavily covered. Expressions
such as "secular extremists" were also included to discuss the racism that
immigrants face in France, the stereotypes they are subjected to, as well as the
"uncomfortable" lives they lead.

<18> Stories of discrimination against Muslims in Europe and North America were
also included. On April 25, 2008, Al Jazeera English covered a story about a
Muslim boy whose name is "Islam" and who was not allowed to participate in a
French film. This story was contextualized by making use of a comparison with the
ban of the veil. The similarity was specifically established between being named
"Islam" and wearing the veil -- they work as signifiers and means of exclusion
from the west. Stories about veiled women and Sikhs expelled from schools and
universities in the U.K., in France, and in Canada were circulated on March 12,
2007; November 27, 2005; November 11, 2004; October 23, 2004; October 21, 2004;
October 20, 2004; and December 17, 2003. For example, a story entitled "hijab gets
Montreal student expelled" was circulated on September 24, 2003. Similarly, one
was able to read the story of a "Florida school bus racism scandal" on November 5,
2003. This story narrates how the driver of a school bus did not pick up "hijab-
wearing girls and foreign-looking boys" in the U.S. This suggests that Muslims and
foreign-looking people are conflated.

<19> These stories illustrate what Sherene Razack's (2008) refers to as the
eviction of Muslims from the West. In the Canadian context, Razack discusses the
moral panic over 'dangerous' Muslims and their literal expulsions in the form of
law and politics. She explains that the stigmatization and eviction of Muslims
from communities starts with the establishment of their difference, marked as a
pre-modern peril to the Canadian nation. She notes that nationalism has
historically required stigmatization of foreigners. Today, stigmatized people run
the risk of being expelled from communities, deported, or deprived from
entitlements of citizenship. The moral panic over 'dangerous' Muslims, fuelled by
culturalist narratives and what Razack calls 'race thinking,' has led to increased
border control, criminalizing, and the eviction of Muslims into a state of
exception. This eviction is a racial process that begins with construction of
Muslims as different and depriving them of legal rights and protections.

<20> According to Razack, the enlightenment discourse of modernity has been


particularly prevalent in framing the 'war on terror.' Muslims have been
indefinitely located in the pre-modern by conveniently resorting to culture-clash
explanations concerning their difference. The construction of Muslim men as
irrational has served to legitimize their eviction from modernity. Here, gender
plays a crucial role in that it confines Muslims to the era and space of the pre-
modern. Razack (2008) notes that:

Gender is crucial to the confinement of Muslims to the pre-modern, as


post-colonial scholarship has long shown. Considered irredeemably
fanatical, irrational, and thus dangerous, Muslim men are also marked as
deeply misogynist patriarchs who have not progressed into the age of
gender equality, and who indeed cannot. For the West, Muslim women are
the markers of their communities' place in modernity (p. 16)

This discourse of modernity and the language of human rights and gender equality
have worked hand-in- hand to justify bombs being dropped on Muslim heads, the
surveillance and discipline of Muslim bodies, and border control (Razack, 2008;
Judith Butler, 2004). The confluence and complicity between Western feminism and
racist imperial agendas has been documented in several studies (for example, see
Yasmin Jiwani, 2005).Western feminist rhetoric has at times been oppressive in its
alignment with colonial regimes by, for example, advocating stringent border
control in Canada to keep out patriarchal Muslims (Razack, 2008).

Cultural Resonance

<21> By focusing on the hostility against the veil, the discrimination faced by
Muslims and the stereotyping of Islam as an oppressive, patriarchal force,
Al_Jazeera English sought to offer an oppositonal discourse. However, this
oppositional discourse was compromised when the coverage re-circulated
establishmentarian narratives and mobilized dominant frames of the veil as a
security threat and as signifying violence. It operated in reactionary mode,
'after the fact,' as it responded to the European framing of the veil and
allocated significant space to voices from European governments justifying the
need for the ban. Although not as prominent, it is important to note that in terms
of their cultural resonance, the construction of the Islamic veil as symbolizing
or presenting a security threat was reproduced in other stories. Stories that
described how men, who hid beneath the burqa or dressed as veiled women, detonated
bombs or presented a security threat were circulated on the following dates: July
06, 2008; May 15, 2008; October 1, 2007; July 6, 2007; July 5, 2007; July 4, 2007;
and March 8, 2007. This coverage focused particularly on Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In addition, mention of the veil as a security threat was present in the coverage
of the concern expressed by the American University in Cairo (AUC), which tried to
ban the veil within the walls of the university (June 10, 2007). Similarly, a
story about a Muslim woman who had to unveil for a driver's license photograph
illustrated the necessity to be visible for security reasons (June 7, 2003).

<22> This particular coverage carries a high cultural resonance within a Western
or Westernized Anglophone audience used to reading stories about Muslim
terrorists. It fits with the dominant trope of the Muslim terrorist, with what
Karim Karim (2000) describes as the core stereotype of the 'violent man of Islam.'
Karim discusses how the image of the violent Muslim man (often a terrorist)
occupies a central place in the dominant media discourse on Islam in Canada. Thus,
because it draws on this familiar trope, this frame is significant. Only one
story, which was circulated on September 29, 2004, specifically presents the veil
as not a security threat. However, as Entman explains, a single story does not
carry sufficient weight in order to counter or "balance" the other stories, which
draw on a well-established Western notion of Islam as presenting a security
threat.

<23> Not only was the veil constructed as presenting a security threat, but it was
also associated with violence. The veil was also framed as a hiding mechanism
utilized by men who dressed as women to conduct acts of terror. For example, a
story about a veiled Palestinian bomber was circulated on September 23, 2004 as
well as September 29, 2004. This coverage also included stories of women being
forced to veil in certain Muslim countries. For example, the oppression that
veiled women in Iran experience was reported on April 24, 2007; March 9, 2006;
September 29, 2004; and March 11, 2004. Similarly, stories about the forced veil
imposed on the women of Afghanistan and what this entails in terms of lack of
access to the public sphere were circulated on February 16, 2004 and on April 25,
2003. A film review that discussed how women who did not cover were beaten and
threatened under the Taliban was also provided on May 24, 2007. A disturbing story
circulated on September 16, 2003 reported that in Saudi Arabia, religious police
prevented unveiled girls from leaving a building on fire. As a result, 15
schoolgirls died. Thus, these stories seem to link, in a simplistic manner, the
institutionalized and structural violence imposed on women in Muslim countries to
the act of wearing the veil. They serve to create a specific association in the
mind of the reader by naturalizing the link between veiling and violence. One can
read a story (October 29, 2008) about a woman, in Somalia, accused of adultery and
stoned to death while another woman watched. In this story, it is implied that the
woman watching the adulterous woman die is the wife or the relative of the man
implicated in the affair. A quote from the story reads: "a woman in green veil and
black mask was brought in a car as we waited to watch the merciless act of
stoning." Here again, veiling is subtly linked with violence.

Towards Alternative Portrayals

<24> Certain themes were briefly mobilized and appear to depart from culturally
resonant frames to the targeted Anglophone, Western or Westernized audience. In
order to complicate the dominant discourse around the veil, this coverage could
have offered more detailed and in-depth analysis of the subject. First, this
coverage has the potential to depart from monolithic representations of Muslim
opinion vis-a-vis the veil. At times, it showed the diversity of opinions about
the veil in North Africa and the Middle-East. It pointed to current debates from
within Arab and Muslim countries about the role of Islam in everyday life. Stories
of conflict between conservative Muslims and secularist Arabs and Middle-
Easterners over the question of veiling were included. Stories of the ban against
veiled Muslim women in Muslim countries focused on Turkey, Tunisia, and
Tajikistan. Furthermore, a story about the American University in Cairo, which
tried to ban wearing the veil within the walls of the university and rationalized
this attempt with the need to safeguard its security, was reported. This debate
was rendered apparent through stories of the ban of the veil from within Muslim
countries. Here, it is noteworthy that the veil is not merely presented as banned
in the West. This was accomplished by providing examples of how it is also banned
in a few Muslim countries.[4] These stories framed the issue as part of current
debates in Arab and Middle-Eastern countries regarding the role of Shariaa, or
Islamic law, in political life. However, unlike other stories, these stories were
only briefly covered.

<25> Second, Al Jazeera English could have further discussed the political
implications of the veil, which needs to be contextualized in terms of its
historical significance. The coverage of the veil as a political statement, in the
sense of affirming one's right to difference (religious, identity) or the refusal
to 'assimilate' or 'integrate' when this means abandoning the culture of origin,
was either absent or incomplete. Thus, the historical and political significance
of the veil was not sufficiently addressed. Notably missing from this coverage
were connections established by the previously discussed literature on the veil,
which reveals how the veil has historically been utilized as a tool of resistance
against colonialism (Fanon, 1963) and patriarchy.

<26> Third, the coverage of the veil as a fashion trend and as a commercial
enterprise was limited. Only a few stories addressed new trends in "hijab chic"
and high hijab fashion. They discussed how the making of different forms of
veiling has become a lucrative industry. Designers appear to be working on
different styles of covering and creating emerging trends in this regard. An
example of such stories was circulated on September 18, 2008. Although the framing
of the veil as a fashion trend was not a recurrent theme, this type of discourse
acts as a recuperation of the veil in a consumer capitalist industry, perhaps even
rendering it less politically threatening. This suggests that through
commodification, the threatening aspects of the veil can be neutralized, a finding
that is consonant with Western practices of commodifying the exotic.

Conclusion

<27> This analysis suggests that the original contribution of Al Jazeera English
is represented through its extensive and detailed coverage of the ban of the veil
in Europe. It also presented the issue within the framework of intolerance and
discriminatory practices towards Muslims in the West. However, it conceded much
ground to dominant western notions of the veil in order to speak to its target
audience, which is Anglophone, Western, or Westernized. In order to communicate to
this particular audience, in order to even discuss the issue of the veil, the veil
was associated with violence and threats to security. Whereas Al Jazeera English
aims to report from the south, set the news agenda, and "balance" the current flow
of information, it also uses standard news formats that present "the opinion and
the other opinion." This commitment to also allocating significant space to
establishmentarian narratives puts Al Jazeera English in an ambivalent position.
The analysis has shown how the oppositional dynamic is compromised in its attempt
to also provide "the opinion." In this context, it is the position of Western
governments vis-a-vis the veil. Significant space was allocated to the re-
circulation of these dominant views. However, it appears that Al Jazeera English
has the potential to present alternative portrayals of the veil. First, it could
have increased the diversity of representations – this was briefly shown through
the coverage of debates on veiling in North Africa and the Middle East. Second, it
could offer a more detailed and in-depth analysis of the political implications of
the veil by delving into its history as a threat to the West and a marker of
difference and resistance. Finally, it could have further discussed the
commodification of the veil as a fashion trend in order to shed light on its
recuperation in a consumer capitalist industry.

The author would like to thank Yasmin Jiwani for her critical feedback on this
paper. I would also like to acknowledge Michelle Aguayo for her comments.

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