Wednesday, November 16, 2022
Robert Kahn (University of St. Thomas), The Mask Wars and Social Control: Lessons from the 1927 Unveiling Campaign in Soviet Uzbekistan, Cal. W. Int'l Int'l L.J. (Forthcoming):
During the late 1920s Soviet authorities embarked on the hujum, a campaign to encourage women in Uzbekistan to unveil. As with the COVID mask wars, the hujum was highly politicized. For some, the hujum was a campaign of personal liberation; for others it was an attempt by the Soviet Union to impose imperial control over its Muslim subjects. To explore the relevance of the hujum for our mask wars, this essay looks at two accounts of the hujum. Douglas Northrop’s Veiled Empire: Gender and Power in Stalinist Central Asia views the hujum as a failed attempt to impose Soviet values on an unwilling Uzbek population. Has the COVID mask, like the veil, become a symbol of failed state overreaching? Marianne Kamp, in the New Woman in Uzbekistan: Islam, Modernity and Communism (2006), sees the hujum as trapping Uzbek women between supporting the Soviets and following patriarchal veiling norms. Have COVID masking campaigns likewise stripped us of our agency? Taken together, Northrop and Kamp’s accounts help shift the debate over COVID mask wearing away from mask authoritarianism toward a world where people should be free, most of the time, to decide whether or not to cover their face.