A decade of veils
by Dave Potter
– written for the update to celebrate the 10th year birthday of TOTV –
Ten years ago this month, the first post was published on Tales of the Veils. If I remember correctly, the very first tale was ‘Laila’, but then I might be mistaken, for looking on the site, ‘Hamesd the Honored’, ‘Ihbat’, ‘Paradise on Earth’ and ‘Shami’s New Life’ are all recorded as having been posted that month, so who knows, perhaps I put several up at once? Whatever, ‘Laila’ was definitely the first veiling erotica that I ever wrote, that is for certain.
Back then though, things were very different. I’ve talked before about the field of veiling erotica, or, to be more precise, the lack of it. I started Tales of the Veils because I found veils erotically exciting yet it seemed that no one else on the web did. My hope was that there were others out there and that some of them may start writing. Ten years on I can surely say that those hopes have been realised beyond all expectations.
But I have talked about this development of the genre before in other updates, now what I want to talk about this year is how the perceptions of the veil have changed in a decade, for surely they have.
As a child growing up in the UK, veils were not a part of life. Sure, there were niqaabis, but they were few and far between. I recall once seeing one walking the proverbial three steps behind her husband in the centre of Birmingham and being fascinated. But that was it; there were none that I recall in university, nor in the streets of our cities. Now however, there are many. I see them whenever I go to certain areas of my city and even in the centre. The school that my son used to attend had several niqaabi mums in attendance and, in areas such as Birmingham’s Small Heath, they are numerous indeed.
And with that rise in sightings comes the rise in media attention. Back in the early 2000s the only time one ever heard the veil discussed was with regards to the Taliban and Afghanistan. I remember well buying a copy of a famous French fashion magazine (Elle, Cosmo or Vogue, I forget which), because it has a burqa-clad face on the front in protest at the actions of the Taliban. Indeed, that was what the veil was seen as then: a symbol of repression to be overthrown. Books such as Jean P. Sassoon’s ‘Princess’ or Latifa’s ‘My Forbidden Face’ were popular and all followed the same theme: the veil was one of the instruments used to repress women.
All of this was, perhaps, unsurprising, in a climate when Muslims had bombed the Twin Towers and a hard-right administration in the US was desperate to convince the rest of the world that it was right to bomb the “terrorists” (N.B. the actual terrorists had all died in the events of 9/11) into oblivion. The veil was a symbol of their world, a well-established symbol of repression and thus it was fair game to present it as such.
What no one seemed to anticipate though, was the backlash. These days, whilst the veil as repression and backwardness theme is still present, so too is an alternative take: young women, often converts or those who have rediscovered the faith they were brought up in, are veiling through their own volition and, in a somewhat uneasy contradiction to the modesty that they purport to believe in, are shouting all about it. YouTube videos lauding the niqaab and demonstrating new styles are being uploaded daily. Niqaab is now fashion it seems.
Of course the question is why? Ask the niqaabis themselves and they say that the veil makes them free as now they can be judged by who they are rather than their appearance. Maybe its because I’m a bloke and a non-Muslim, but that doesn’t sit right with me. Despite their increase in number, today most people are more likely to stare at a niqaabi than a non-niqaabi. There are countless videos testifying to the extra, often unwanted, attention that wearing a veil has brought those who chose to don it. To me that is a contradiction. Perhaps the real reason is that people do want the attention: as with so many other youth fashions, niqaab is now a label, a symbol of rebellion, proof belonging to a certain group, a rejection of old mores. That would certainly explain the converts being so keen on it.
In the long run, who knows? As with everything else, motives can be varied. There are doubtless still women there who fit the disempowered traditional stereotype, forced to be hidden by misogynistic husbands or fathers, then others who veil to prove that “I is more Muslim than you, innit!” and those still who genuinely do wish just to be, modest. Our readers will also recognise the fetishistic qualities of the veil that SC2029 explores in his book, the pleasure of being covered and hidden.
All in all, there are two things that I can state with certainty. Firstly, the veil is more visible these days and for me, that is no bad thing. And secondly, for those ladies who feel that becoming a niqaabi reduces their sexual allure, then I am sorry but, for a certain section of society at least, you are wrong, very wrong indeed.
Which is why we all love Tales of the Veils so much.