Thursday, February 05, 2015

Michelle Obama's Dress in Saudi Arabia

When leading teen trips in Israel, there was always that first day in the Old City of Jerusalem. On the night before that day, I would often make an announcement on the bus as we headed back to our hotel or youth hostel. Prepping the teens for our exciting day in the Old City, I would remind the young women on the bus that they should dress appropriately making sure to cover their arms and wearing a skirt so as not to offend any of the Ultra-Orthodox near the Kotel (Western Wall) or on our walk around the neighborhoods of the Old City.

There would always be a couple teens who would challenge what I said, asking why we would have to adjust our normal attire for the sake of someone else's beliefs. Some of the teen girls would voice their opposition to the unfairness that the boys could still wear shorts and tank tops in the hot Jerusalem sun the next day, but the girls had to wear long skirts. The compromise was usually that the girls could wear shorts and just keep their skirts in their backpack so they could pull them out and cover up when we entered the Old City. It was a difficult rule for me to defend, but I explained that it was our way of showing respect... not to mention I didn't want to have to deal with the Israeli police who would let me know if any of the teens in my group weren't dressed appropriately for the Kotel plaza.

Some Saudis criticized Michelle Obama's decision not to cover her head on her Saudi visit

I thought of those days in Israel when I saw the news footage of First Lady Michelle Obama’s decision not to cover her head in a scarf in Saudi Arabia, when visiting there for the funeral of King Abdullah. She certainly wasn't the only First Lady to eschew this policy -- Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush also didn't wear head scarves during trips to Saudi Arabia. Mrs. Obama's face was blurred out by Saudi state TV and the new king didn't acknowledge her when he greeted President Obama.

In an unusual display of support for the Obamas, Senator Ted Cruz offered "kudos" to the First Lady in a tweet for refusing to wear the "Sharia-mandated" head scarf in Saudi Arabia. I too felt a sense of pride at first and quietly applauded Mrs. Obama's decision to not kowtow to Saudi Arabia's strict rules governing how women should dress in public. But then I remembered those many times in Israel when I instructed those young women to respect the dress code of the local area.

So which one is it? Should the American people -- women in general -- cheer Mrs. Obama for refusing to cover her head in Saudi Arabia? Or rather, should we wag our fingers at her for her blatant disrespect. I considered the fact that we Jews often ask gentile men to wear a yarmulke when inside a synagogue and we expect that they will comply.

At Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's funeral, had Vice President Joe Biden (Obama didn't attend) refused to wear a yarmulke, would we have applauded his choice or felt that he was acting disrespectfully. I think it would be the latter. Using this analogy I think Mrs. Obama blundered. She could have voiced her opposition to Sharia Law and the Saudi Arabian dress code for women in public when she returned to the United States. When she was a guest in Saudi Arabia, I think she should have bit her lip and covered her head. What do you think?


Patricia Stein said...

I think the compromise Mrs O reached was correct. Wearing a yamulke is not oppressive, whereas the strict dress code imposed on women in S Arabia most decidedly is.

Les Le Gear said...

The only time I support Michelle Obama. Does the king of saudi arabia dress in western clothing when he visits the US?

Anonymous said...

Les Le Gear. My email is I enjoy your blog.

sonjoy said...
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