Dissertations and Theses @ UNI


Open Access Thesis


Muslim women--Public opinion; Veils--Social aspects; Photographs--Social aspects; Veils in mass media;


On January 26, 2011, Reuters photojournalist Amr Abdallah Dalsh took an image of a unknown veiled woman gesturing at Dalsh and his camera. Using TinEye, a reverse image search engine, I found that 86 circulations and 22 recirculations of the photo were primarily in the United States. US graphic artist Nick Bygon created one of the recirculations, which primarily appeared on US blogs. The photo achieved this level of circulation in the US because it is consistent with, and therefore legible within the symbolic language, of the liberal democratic order. Similar to “Migrant Mother” and “Tank Man”, the photo is evidence of a historical event that displays the lone individual who represents democratic ideals of overcoming struggle. I make two distinct arguments: First, the woman is rendered invisible by the state and therefore the photo challenges the state’s authority through body rhetoric, Manichean symbolism, andbecause the photo represents veiled Muslim women as agents and challenges assumptions that women of the East are helpless, the veil or hijab is oppressive, and that Western influence is needed in West Asia and North Africa to prevent oppression of Muslim women. Ultimately, the photographic strategies of body rhetoric, Manichean symbolism, andre-entrench the Western liberal democratic lens while also challenging it. Therefore, the photo functions as a space for critical analysis because it challenges Western representations and assumptions of veiled Muslim women through the photographic strategies. Second, I critique Western looking patterns and argue that spectators should abandon their liberal democratic lens to embrace Azoulay’s theory of photography as a civil contract. In order to embrace the civil contract of photography, a spectator should accept the four obligations of the civil contract. Ultimately, instead of looking at a photo, one should watch and bear witness to the events documented in the snapshot. By watching, a spectator no longer looks through the lens of liberal democratic citizenship, but through one of a civil contract.

Year of Submission


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Department of Communication Studies

First Advisor

Catherine Helen Palczewski

Date Original


Object Description

1 PDF file (viii, 123 pages)



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