In 1955, the Oxford historian Albert Hourani published an article entitled "The Vanishing Veil", predicting that the centuries-old practice would soon disappear from Muslim societies. Over the previous half-century, women in the eastern Mediterranean Arab countries, led by Egypt, had gradually abandoned their traditional coverings. By the time an isolated nostalgic called out to Gamal Abdel Nasser at a rally in 1962, asking him to reinstate veiling, the Egyptian president could dismiss him with the quip that he had no desire to "engage in battle with 25 million people" – Egypt's population at the time.
More than 50 years later, the many forms of hijab (Islamic veil or covering) are on the rise in both the Muslim world and the west – and so are states' ineffectual attempts to contain them. A law banning face-covering veils from public places has recently come into force in France; Germany has a partial ban on headscarves for teachers; Turkey has banned Islamic coverings from universities; and Syria recently reversed a ban on face veils for primary school teachers. Britain ruled out a proposed "burqa ban" in 2010, but Islamic dress remains a reliable staple of controversy, from the House of Commons to the Daily Mail ("Tower Hamlets Taliban: Death threats to women who don't wear veils" was one recent headline).
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