It all starts with One Thousand and One Nights. By telling her stories of princes of thieves and beauties locked in harems, Scheherazade creates the first archetype of the Arab woman. An exotic, mysterious and, above all, terribly erotic delight.
The West stumbles as it reads these pages from another time, another world. Painters dream of odalisques, writers travel to the heart of the Ottoman Empire and freshly colonized Algeria… Waving to the rhythm of the lute, twirling its scarves, the Oriental woman is at best a belly dancer.
Nowadays, many Arab nations are either oil powers or battlefields. Europe thinks it is sandwiched between terrorists and refugees. Once desirable and sensual, the sultana would have swapped her embroidered costume for a djellaba and matching niqab. If she’s lucky, she’s wearing a Chanel dress underneath. Otherwise, she running under the bombs.
Both then and now, Arab women continue to be stereotyped. Far from being as binary as we tend to show it, she finds her way into our culture to mark it with her plurality. Well installed behind our moucharabieh, let us lift the veil… •