Every time news about another hijab/niqab/burqa ban hits the press, editors rejoice: this is their chance to coin THE ultimate veil pun. Problem is, there’s simply no such thing as a good veil pun.
Plays on words that seemed clever in 1996 (or rather, in colonial discourse from 1959) have become even more trite and cringeworthy after years of headline-grabbing headscarf-ban debates and “encounters” with women in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the sub-par puns don’t stop, and some would make even Carrie Bradshaw roll her eyes (we acknowledge our own lame contributions to this canon). As someone who wore the “veil” for twelve years, I’ve endured their unpunny ubiquity in all their various forms and it gets less and less amusing. But it doesn’t take years of wearing the hijab to see just how bad and pervasive “the bad veil pun” really is.
Unveiling the Truth! Unveiling the Myths!
A simple Google search reveals that the “unveiling the truth” is perhaps the most popular veil pun. In today’s world of Muslim-female-otherness, we demand the truth about the mysterious, mythical creatures of the East… When it comes to discussions about Islam, war, and Muslim women, we don’t just find the truth, folks, we unveil it!
“Unveiling the truth behind Shariah” [Toronto Sun] “Unveiling the Truth” [Daily Times (Pakistan)] “Unveiling the Truth” [10/19/06, New York Sun] “Unveiling the truth about burqa bans” [Orange County Register] “Muslim Women Uncover Myths about Hijab” [CNN.com] “Help to unveil Muslim myths” [Illawarra Mercury (Australia)]
Unveiling Other Stuff!
And it turns out, you can (and very well should) unveil all sorts of Islam-related things.
“Burqa bans unveil a debate” [Sunshine Coast Daily (Australia)] “Dutch unveil the toughest face in Europe with a ban on the burka” [Sunday Times] “Sarkozy unveils ‘burka ban’ plan” [5/20/10, Brockville Recorder and Times (Canada)] “Nile unveils bill to ban people hiding their faces” [Sydney Morning Herald] “France is unveiling a new policy on Muslim attire: No veils for you!” (article lede) [New York Daily News] “Unveiling Muslim way of life” [7/27/09, The Advertiser (Australia)] “Women Unveil Why They Marry Faith With Dress” [The Age (Australia)] “Platform ‘unveiled’; McGuinty says Muslim women can vote wearing their burkas” [The Toronto Sun] “The Swiss Minaret Ban: Anxieties, Unveiled” [LA Times]
Of course, how can we forget the “veiled threat?” Uh oh! Watch out! Islam and Muslims are big, bad and ugly, and they’re coming to getcha! These are most common in “integration” and “social cohesion debates” and further serve to remind you that Islamistan is taking over, stat.
“Veiled Threat” [Daily Dish] “Veiled Threat” [Sunday Times] “Veiled Threat: Niqab New Flashpoint in Tolerance Debate” [National Post] “Veiled Threat?” [Daily Star] “Veiled Threats” [New York Times] “Veiled Threats: Row Over Islamic Dress Opens Bitter Divisions in France” [Guardian] “Thinly veiled threat” [New Statesman] “Focus: A Veiled Threat” [Sunday Times] “No Veiled Threat- France Mulls Fines for Wearing Burka in Public” [New York Daily News] “The Veiled Threat in Europe” [Khaleej Times] “France’s Veil Threat” [Los Angeles Times] “Veiled fears: France’s push to keep women s faces uncovered” [Globe and Mail] “Racism Veiled as Liberation” [Guardian]
Behind the Veil!
The seemingly more empathetic and well-intentioned approach is the “behind the veil” pun. Connecting with the veiler by breaking through the veil’s metaphorical “barrier,” while not outright rejecting the veil, seems to bring to light the more positive stories. Still, it doesn’t stop you from wanting to shout back, “my freaking hair (and maybe some of my face), boo!”
“Behind the Veil; Exploring Love, Sex and Freedom Among Muslim Women” [Hartford Courant] “Behind the Veil: A Muslim Woman’s Perspective” [Targeted News Service] “Behind the Veil: Inside Iran” [Dateline NBC] “Behind the Veil: An Intimate Journey into the Lives of Kandahar’s Women” [Globe and Mail] “Behind the veil: Why Islam’s most visible symbol is spreading” [The Christian Science Monitor] “Behind the veil lives a thriving Muslim sexuality” [Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)] “Inside Afghanistan: Behind the veil” [BBC News] “Muslim Women: Behind the Veil” [Observer UK] “Here’s the Truth Behind the Veil” [Times of India] “The Many Faces Behind the Veil” [The Independent] “Pursuing Happiness Behind the Veil” [Los Angeles Times] “Criminalising Women Behind the Veil” [BBC News] “Life Behind The Veil” [Nepali Times] “Voices from Behind the Veil” [Christian Science Monitor] “From behind the hijab: women reveal their dream world” [Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)] “What’s hiding behind France’s proposed burqa ban?” [Christian Science Monitor] “Behind Burqa, Student Gets An Education in Bigotry” [Hartford Courant] “French Niqab Ban: Beneath the Veil” [Guardian] “Beneath the Veil” [Boston Globe]
The Special Award for Repetitive Use
This one goes to the New York Times.
“Veiled Arguments” [New York Times] “Behind the Veil” [The New York Times] “Tearing Away the Veil” [The New York Times] “Under a Scarf, a Turkish Lawyer Fighting to Wear it” [The New York Times] “Behind the Burqa” [The New York Times] “Under the Cover of Islam” [The New York Times] “Behind the Veil; A Muslim Woman Speaks Out” [The New York Times] “Srinagar Journal; Behind the Veil, a Muslim Feminist” [The New York Times] “Under the Veil” [The New York Times]
But don’t forget shrouding! Veils shroud, too!
“Controversy shrouds Muslim women’s head coverings” [USA Today]
More than just being annoying, these veil puns pointedly remind us of the public’s obsession, discomfort, and fascination with Muslim women and their sexuality. Even when headlining an article about a Muslim-majority country or about Islam more generally, and not about Muslim women, the veil puns draw us back to what we should be thinking about-women who seem to exist in a sexual realm outside of the existing norms of Western society. The less-sexy reality is that Muslim women are neither defined by the veil, nor is it the most important community issue or need for Muslim women.
Moreover, these puns perpetuate that the idea that Islam (metaphorically) or Muslim women (literally), are things that ought to be unveiled. Of course this implies that the truth about Islam is somehow hidden or that Muslim women shouldn’t wear veils. (Notice how often others unveil Muslim-y things, it’s not painted as an autonomous act.)
There’s no changing the fact that the language and popular discourses on Muslim women and Islamic modest dress make these puns write themselves. So if news outlets are committed to their puns, perhaps they can at least be a bit more creative.