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Volume 9, Issue 1, Winter 2019

Falguni A. Sheth
Pages 53-72

The Veil, Transparency, and the Deceptive Conceit of Liberalism

The veil has remained controversial in the US since 9/11, yet it has not been subject to explicit regulation. Beginning with a court case in which a Muslim woman is banned from the courtroom for refusing a judge’s order to remove her niqab, I explore the ways in which the judge’s order resembles a demand for transparency. Transparency as a norm, a mode of discourse, and a kind of comportment betrays the explicit ethos of secular-liberal political norms and practices as being purely procedural. Drawing on early immigration law, the PATRIOT Act, and other laws, I argue that transparency is a demand for “unfamiliar” strangers to present themselves as familiar, or at least, as unthreatening to the dominant, homogenous population—not merely through sincerity and collegiality, but through submission and obedience. The demand for transparency is also often an impossible demand for a gendered racial and cultural recomportment, that is, to transform oneself into someone familiar—a neutral, vaguely feminist, liberal subject. I conclude that transparency remains in excess of liberal political and civic culture’s explicit scope.

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