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Americans care way more than Saudis about whether Michelle Obama wears a veil

Osomir

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Since no one else seems interested in presenting them (the truth doesn't matter when it comes to covering Saudi Arabia, for some reason), here are some actual facts about this story and what they mean:

  1. American officials in Saudi Arabia typically do not wear headscarves, including at formal government functions. Michelle was following normal protocol.
  2. Former first ladies Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton did not wear headscarves on similar official visits to Saudi Arabia. Neither did former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
  3. Saudi Arabia is officially ultra-conservative, but it is also heavily integrated into the global economy; unveiled Western women are extremely common in elite government circles like this one. Unveiled female Western leaders are common sites on Saudi media.
  4. I feel very confident that no one at the funeral blinked at seeing Michelle Obama unveiled. Saudi royals are comfortable with the West and with Western customs; many spend long parts of the year in Europe and a number were educated in American boarding schools or colleges. They are accustomed to seeing unveiled women, and to working and interacting with powerful women.
  5. Despite reports of a Saudi social media backlash against the first lady for going unveiled, tweets complaining about her appearance appear to have been quite limited. As the Wall Street Journal's Ahmed Al Omran put it, "Saudi has millions of Twitter users. When a few hundred of them talk about something, that's not a backlash. It's hardly a flicker."
  6. It is true that there is a powerful ultra-conservative clerical establishment in Saudi Arabia, and that ultra-conservatism has a real constituency there. But it is easy to overstate the popularity of this movement and its causes. In any case, people are aware that Western women don't wear veils.
  7. The American media's assumption that Saudis are all cavemen whose faces would melt on seeing an unveiled woman is not just overly simplistic, but is rooted in racist assumptions about Arabs and Muslims as inherently and universally backwards. Unsurprisingly, many in the US have seized on this to perpetuate Islamophobic fearmongering about Muslims, such as when US Senator Ted Cruz tweeted, "Kudos to @FLOTUS for standing up for women & refusing to wear Sharia-mandated head-scarf in Saudi Arabia."
  8. Further, the glee with which the American media praises any supposed defiance of Arab or Muslim social norms should be unnerving. In this story, as with past stories such as the American praise of Emirati fighter pilot Maryam al-Mansouri, even stories ostensibly about empowering Arab women end up emphasizing the degree to which that empowerment matters because it humiliates Arab men, in this case Saudi monarchs.
  9. Consider how this story would have gone if Michelle Obama had worn a veil. As Nidal Diaz, an Ottawa-based analyst, pointed out on the Facebook wall of a Middle East-based journalist who had posted about the controversy, the first lady "was in fact standing in front of the world, and any analysis should take this into consideration." Diaz continued:
In this light, the First Lady's choice to very visibly not make any attempt to cover her hair was, for all thing considered, the safest and least bravest option. The unfortunate truth is that this had little to do with her making a stand for a woman's right to not wear a veil and/or the Saudi government's institutionalized sexism but more to do with attempting to avoid further perpetuating the American Right's obsession for stigmatizing Obama and family as Muslims, and, approaching an election year, to prevent the Democrat administration from appearing to submit to the way of life of the vilified Saudis/Wahhabis. Beyond that, I highly doubt that whatever vitriol she got on Saudi social media and blogosphere would have even compared to the backlash she would have gotten had she been pictured wearing a veil at Abdullah's funeral.

In other words, an American first lady went to a Muslim country and followed completely normal protocol by going unveiled. There was very little reaction within that country, and no reaction among her hosts.

Source:
Americans care way more than Saudis about whether Michelle Obama wears a veil - Vox

This is such a silly controversy. I'm embarrassed for our country that it is even considered newsworthy let alone fuss worthy. In general, we tend to relay FAR too heavily on false outrage in order to attempt to score internal political points.
 

Delta4Embassy

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Adopting a local custom when visiting it isn't the worst idea in the world. Maybe if Americans abroad showed more respect they'd be more welcomed.
 
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Osomir

Osomir

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Adopting a local custom when visiting it isn't the worst idea in the world. Maybe if Americans abroad showed more respect they'd be more welcomed.

It's standard operating procedure not to; a point which is clearly delineated in the OP.
 

Delta4Embassy

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Adopting a local custom when visiting it isn't the worst idea in the world. Maybe if Americans abroad showed more respect they'd be more welcomed.

It's standard operating procedure not to; a point which is clearly delineated in the OP.

Don't get me started on how sometimes SOP isn't what we should do unless you wanna talk about Abu Ghraib.

If you're visiting a foreign destination, and the law of the land says women should wear a head cover, and you wanna show respect to your hosts (a big thing to arabs btw) you wear a cover. Whether you have to or not, should or not doesn't matter if your intent is to show your hosts respect. Especially at the country's leader's funeral for cryin' out loud.

Sure, the talking heads back home are gonna make it a thing but F em. You did the right thing.
 

Sunni Man

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#1) The thread title is misleading. The hijab (headscarf) is not a veil.

#2) Michelle should have worn a hijab to the funeral as a sign of respect.
 
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Osomir

Osomir

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Adopting a local custom when visiting it isn't the worst idea in the world. Maybe if Americans abroad showed more respect they'd be more welcomed.

It's standard operating procedure not to; a point which is clearly delineated in the OP.

Don't get me started on how sometimes SOP isn't what we should do unless you wanna talk about Abu Ghraib.

If you're visiting a foreign destination, and the law of the land says women should wear a head cover, and you wanna show respect to your hosts (a big thing to arabs btw) you wear a cover. Whether you have to or not, should or not doesn't matter if your intent is to show your hosts respect. Especially at the country's leader's funeral for cryin' out loud.

Sure, the talking heads back home are gonna make it a thing but F em. You did the right thing.

Abu Ghraib wasn't SOP. The comparison isn't apt nor appropriate, particularly since it is SOP for both sides of the fence here regarding visits from high level female US officials. Saudi also has dual legal systems. Western women have long been able to live in Saudi Arabia in various areas without having to wear either veils or headscarves (ARAMCO rules). There is nothing disrespectful about it, and the insinuation that Saudis can't handle it and aren't that connected to the modern world to the point of it being considered a great offense to them is, in and of itself somewhat offensive and backwards.
 

DigitalDrifter

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I'm glad she didn't cover her head, although most of the time I wish she would.
 

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