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«Copyright © 2013 Critical Approaches to Discourse Analysis across Disciplines Vol. 7 (1): 19 – 32 ISSN: 1752-3079 GHADAH ...»

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The Face-Veil through the Gaze

Copyright © 2013

Critical Approaches to Discourse Analysis across Disciplines


Vol. 7 (1): 19 – 32

ISSN: 1752-3079


Carleton University



The paper is to display through critical discourse analysis discursive structures of six

opinion articles taken from three Canadian newspapers discussing the niqab after the ban of

it in France: two newspapers are national – Globe and Mail and National Post – and one is locally published in Ottawa –Ottawa Sun. Studying these articles through a CDA lens, I have found that the discourse of the opinion articles features two ‘ways of seeing’ (Berger 2008) towards the face veil: one is the colonial gaze, which comes from a history of colonization and for which the face veil stands out as a barrier to obtaining knowledge about these women and thus conquering them. The other coded way of seeing is that of nationalism which translates Muslim women as symbols of anti-nationality and inability to assimilate into the ‘imagined Canada’ (Jiwani 2006; Berland 2009). The theoretical investigation of the paper relies on discussions of Orientalism, and on critical descriptions the sociohistorical and political context of Canada. It is substantiated by a qualitative critical analysis of the data to illustrate discursive patterns that characterize ideologically loaded presentations of the face-veil and Muslim women.

Key words: newspapers, CDA, colonialism, Canada

1. Introduction In 1994, French Education Minister, Francois Bayrou, issued a decree banning all ‘ostentatious’ signs of religion in school. Although he made no direct reference to headscarves, he let no doubt as to the nature of ‘ostentatious religious symbols’ he was talking about (Vivian 1999). In 2004, the French senate decreed a law prohibiting ‘conspicuous’ religious symbols in public schools (Langlaude 2007). The law, according to the government, was to emphasize the ‘neutrality’ of public schools and provide approval of the previous ministerial decree (ibid.). In 2009, Sarkozy, the president of the French public at that time, made a statement that ‘we cannot accept in our country women imprisoned behind bars, cut off from social life’. He stated

that this was one Islamic custom that ‘is not welcome in France’ (Stern 2007:

8). The following year, France’s National Assembly has approved the legislation banning face coverings in public spaces including markets, transportations, and corporate and government buildings (Greenaway

–  –  –

general and Muslim women in specific, which has increased in the last ten years in France (Croucher 2008). However, the increasing ‘intolerance’ towards Muslims is not a feature of legal and discursive practices only in France, but in Canada here, the province of Quebec tabled Bill 94 to introduce a veil ban to deny government services to those covering their faces with a niqab, and controversies are continually generated in media in other provinces around the niqab/burka/face veil and ‘problems’ it is presupposed to cause regarding social communication, assimilation and safety (Washington 2010).

My aim in the paper is to examine through ‘aesthetics of seeing’ (Vivian 1999) discursive features and structures of six opinion articles taken from three Canadian newspapers discussing the niqab after the ban of it in France: two newspapers are national – Globe and Mail and National Post – and one is locally published in Ottawa –Ottawa Sun. My desire to explore the issue comes from my belief in the crucial role such discursive practices play in promoting hegemonic ideology that alienates and marginalizes Muslim women. According to Jiwani (2006), if particular groups are constantly represented in stereotypical ways as abnormal, unable-to-assimilate immigrants, who don’t fit the ideal normative standards, then it follows that the ruling powers are likely to use these representations as justifications for imposing rules that hinder the rights of these groups in entering the nation.

Haddad, Moore and Smith (2006) note that when Muslim women first come as immigrants, they may not be hurt by these media stereotypical images because of their confidence that they are not fitting in them but eventually these continuant scornful images of Muslim women ‘grind them down’ (p. 34).

Beside affecting Muslim women’s self-esteem, such stereotypical representation may curtail their political economic and cultural initiatives and advancements I argue in the paper that the discourse of the opinion articles studied features two ‘ways of seeing’ (Berger 2008) towards the face veil: one is the colonial gaze, which comes from a history of colonization and for which the face veil stands out as a barrier to obtaining knowledge about these women and thus conquering them, and as a marker of their inferiority and ‘geographical’ differences (Vivian 1999). The other coded way of seeing is that of nationalism which translates Muslim women as symbols of anti-nationality and inability to assimilate into the ‘imagined Canada’ (Jiwani 2006; Berland 2009). The literature review of the paper will look at the notion of gaze, and then how the gaze has been loaded with ideology linked to Orientalism, and to geopolitical conditions and national narratives of unity. This theoretical investigation will consist of discussions of Orientalism as critiqued by post-colonial studies, and the socio-historical and political context of Canada whose status Berland (2009) describes as both a colony and a colonizer, including critiques of the multiculturalism policy and ‘unofficial’ hierarchal structure of Canadian society. The theoretical discussion will be followed by a qualitative critical analysis of the articles to illustrate discursive patterns and coded ways of seeing that characterize ideologically loaded presentations of the face-veil and Muslim women.

P a g e | 21 Alrasheed

2. Literature Review2.1 The Concept of Gaze and the Other

Much work has examined the interpellation of the Other through the ‘gaze’.

One of these works is Wakeham’s Taxidsermic signs (2008), which demonstrates the relevance of the colonial gaze to taxidermic semiotics through case studies of taxidermy as a material and symbolic practice. Lisa parks (2005) in Cultures in Orbit, shows how the ‘satellite gaze’ arises from a combination of Euro-centric and Western military, scientific, colonial, and capital knowledge practices. McGowan (2007) develops a new film theory through rethinking the gaze that has been historically central in films studies and locating it with the filmic image rather than the spectator. Such studies have made major contributions to the field of communication, and have extended the application of the ‘gaze’ to different media and various geopolitical and cultural contexts. I would like to use the concept of the gaze to study the ‘politics of seeing’ (Vivian 1999) the face-veil/burka in the specific Canadian post-colonial setting. But, at first, what is gaze?

Foucault (1991) posits that perception of ‘reality’ is not governed by ‘truth’ but ordered by external and discursive structures. In his discussion of this concept, Foucault contends that the world is not controlled by a universal intrinsic order other than by discourse and linguistic descriptions of it.

Discourses are affected by external forces of political, economic and social pressure, and are also internally ordered by discursive narratives and structures (Mills 2004). ‘Regimes of truth’, to Foucault, then are linked in a relation to power which produces and is maintained by these truth affects. A principal technology of power, he argues, is the gaze, which is a relationship of the subject to the object and is concerned with the gathering of information, to inform and create a discourse on its subject matter (Fox 1998). The gaze, which may be medical, educational, masculine, aesthetic…etc. (ibid.), operates through modernist techniques of surveillance turning the Other into an object fixed by the gaze of the subject (Majumdar 2007). The Other is not a visible object; rather, it is rendered visible through a particular one way of seeing that creates the ‘self-evident’, natural’ (Vivian 1999) and ‘common-sense’. It should not be forgotten also that the gaze is not reducible to one ideal unseen viewer, but public individuals are always seeing and seen, and ‘subsumed within the entire field of visibility’ (ibid. p. 118).This can be clarified by Foucault’s argument in his essay ‘what is an author’ in which he asserts that studying of works should not be reduced to their authors` personas, to thoughts and experiences, but attention should be paid to their ‘modes of existence’. In the essay, he confirms that the author is an ‘ideological product’ of a culture rather than a ‘perpetual surging of an invention’ (p. 119). The gaze then is not to be understood as coming from an ‘ideal unseen subject’ but it should be situated within an entire ‘field of visibility’ (Vivian 1999) which encourages individuals to enact differential power relations and inhabit certain ‘modes of existence’.

22 | P a g e CADAAD

2.2 Orientalism, Coloniality and Postcoloniality The fundamental inequality which is intrinsic in the form of the gaze is reinforced by colonial relations of power, which are still alive in the postcolonial world. As a reaction to these unequal relations, a body of work, called postcolonial studies, has emerged. According to Shome and Hedge (2002), postcolonial studies are an interdisciplinary field of inquiry committed to theorizing the problematic of colonization and decolonization. As a field it is positioned within the broader critical project of cultural studies that has had so much influence in communication scholarship. (p. 250) Postcolonial theory works provide a ‘historical and international depth to the understanding of cultural power’ (ibid.) through exploration of issues such as race, class, gender and nationality within ‘geopolitical arrangements, and relationships of nations and their international histories’ (ibid.). Shome and Hedge point out that the concern of postcolonial studies goes beyond national boundaries, and that these works locate the nation in a larger context of global power and relation, and in that they differ than the rhetoric of multiculturalism: while postcolonial theory allows for multiplicity in thought, multiculturalism is based on ‘Otherness’ which ‘resurrects the native in essentialist trappings and fixed categories’ (p. 262). Multiculuralism misses the point about diversity as struggle, but aims through the package of otherness to ‘create a savvy work force who can navigate cultural differences’ (p. 263), maintaining ‘White’ normativity and privileges. Postcolonial theory, on the other hand, deconstructs ‘white privilege’ and rejects post-colonial imperial values and relations.

In Orientalism (1978), one major and inspirational work in the field of postcolonial research, Edward Said analyzes ‘Western’ texts that describe or relate to the ‘Orient’ or ‘Orientals’, ranging from the Eighteenth century to the late twentieth century. What distinguishes Said’s work from other works which discuss Orientalism is his use of Foucault’s notion of discourse¸ which places knowledge and power at the centre (Poole 2002). Said shows through his book how Orientalism as an institutionalized discourse was created to provide knowledge of the Orient and the Oriental in order to have power over this ‘Other’ and how the knowledge of the Other was created out of an ideological construction which combined fear of the other and an imperialistic outlook of the Oriental domain.

Although Orientalism was criticized by many scholars such as Turner (1994) for having a monolithic framework for the divergent and different traditions of Orientalism, and for emphasizing the negative side of Orientalism and ignoring intellectual and philosophical benefits that have been reaped from this field, the book has contributed significantly to the understanding of the link between knowledge and power in the process ‘Northern’ societies have institutionalized their imaginaries about the Other (Karim 2000). Said has succeeded in drawing attention to common ideological patterns in Orientalism that promoted clashes and conflicts with the ‘East’ and which are still dangerous if not intellectually and discursively challenged and resisted.

P a g e | 23 Alrasheed Orientalism is defined by Said as ‘Knowledge of the Orient that places things Oriental in class, court, prison, or manual for scrutiny, study, judgment, discipline, or governing’ (p. 41). Orientalism then as a field embodies a gaze which turns the Other and what is related to ‘it’ into an object for study and scrutiny. This scientific-colonial gaze was applied within ‘traditional learning (the classics…philology), public institutions (governments…universities) and generically determined writings (travel books…)’ (Said 1978: 202), affecting almost every field of academic learning (ibid.).

The ‘gaze’ that constructed the relationship between the West and East as active spectators and passive objects of seeing in colonial periods has survived throughout long periods of history. The Orientalist-colonial archive informs modern discourses especially in media about the ‘Other’, keeping a dichotomous image of the East and the West where the former symbolizes irrationality, violence, cruelty and backwardness and the latter represents the

opposites of these traits (Jiwani 2006). Bannerji argues that:

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