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The Circle

THE CHADOR IS A STRANGE GARMENT. A square of black fabric draped over a woman's head and falling to her ankles, this ancient covering, currently a symbol of Iran's revolution, has over time served various ideologies. The shah banned it; the mullahs now enforce it. “Death out for a walk” was how Guy de Maupassant described the dark figures he saw moving through nineteenth-century Persian streets.

By most accounts, the chador is difficult to wear—held in place by a hand under the chin and perennially slipping. Though it allows women to mingle publicly with men, it is both physically and psychologically encumbering. In Persian Mirrors, Elaine Sciolino's new book (based on two decades' experience reporting from Iran), the journalist recalls strangers rebuking women for infringements of hijab (proper Islamic dress) with “Fix your hijab, ma'am,” spoken politely or hissed. Women who wear the

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