In my first film, Veiled Woman, I tackle the issue of the veil in Islam. My intention is not to polarise the argument but to isolate it from any partis pris, somewhat of an impossible task when it occurs to me that I am perhaps recreating my relationship with Islam through film. Once removed from land, culture, language and history yet affiliated through family ties, ethnicity and religion, I stand behind the camera looking into the familiar and strange. Admittedly, covering up should be as foreign to me as foot binding since I have never covered myself in the name of religion or been told to do so. Born and brought up in secular France, educated in public schools, l’école laïc, what is my heritage indeed? Does the memory of my mother donning the veil on holiday in Algeria constitute a sufficient claim to an entire culture? Since, “unwittingly” the veil has become “a sign of difference”, East and West. (Professor Nadje S. Al-Ali, The Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter)
I remember my mother standing at the gate of my grandmother’s house in Oran. As I watched my aunts help her to cover herself, I knew my mother’s life had been severed from mine. No doubt, I would get accustomed to it by growing up myself, I thought. Place, language and traditions were irrelevant, only time mattered lest people speculated on a few Home truths. A French gipsy woman once stated at the market that we, Arabs, slept on a bag of straw? My mother’s scowl was enough to make the woman include her own family in that remark and turn it into a bad pleasantry. In France, my mother’s social life was minimal. At my grandmother’s, she was hardly left alone. A cousin was getting married that summer so guests were not unusual. I suspect my mother had forgotten how to wrap herself in the local custom, so to speak, and was suddenly experiencing the distance and familiarity the years had put between her, her youth and her country.