Thursday, January 29, 2015


Headscarves in Saudi Arabia caused a stir in the media. Was it showing the beautiful Michelle Obama without a headscarf or was it something else that caused the kerfuffle. The evidence seems to indicate the problem was multifaceted. By our standards, the Saudis mistreated her as a guest, but their standards, it was protocol. She was not the guest of honor; the President was. Clearly, the parade of keffiyeh wearing Saudis passed without even looking in her direction.

Of course, those who hate everything “Obama” distorted the scene to meet their purposes. However, the ban the burka supporters in the US seem to have been the most vocal in condemning their behavior. The position of women in Arab culture is at the center; who are we to tell them they to suddenly adopt western culture. I would be absolutely ridiculous to think that “all” females in the White House and congress wear burkas if a Saudi King visits the U.S. or that the King should give Michelle a warm hug and kiss on the cheek when he greets her in the White House portico. What if he did, so what? Should she wear a burka? Either here or there? The answer is so what if she did?

Much to her credit, she attended and remained graceful though out the greeting procedure, in fact she know before hand that they would not greet her but did it anyway. What she did will make a difference in a subtle way. This story reminds me of a young Peace Core woman working in my village in Belize. She visited my wife and me from time to time. After a year of working in the village teaching women how to garden, it was time for her to go home. Lamentably, she said she openly questioned if she had made any difference in the village. Both my wife and I were complementary and assured her that she had made a difference. What we didn’t say was how. Most village women she worked with probably would not keep their little family gardens she worked so hard to get them to grow; however, we saw a huge difference.

She was her custom to wearing tight fitting slacks or shorts, sleeveless and low cut blouses. In contrast, the women in my village were all Mayan, which was the language they spoke in their homes and the customs they followed. They invariably wore long dresses with long sleeves. They visited with other women but were reticent about talking to men who were not their family. We noticed that the young local women suddenly started to appear in slacks and blouses. In addition, even the older ones would greet or smile at me on the street rather than looking away. When I left the village 15 or 20 years later, they were wearing shorts—short, shorts.

I feel Michelle Obama made a big difference; it will take time. Contrary to what the media tells us, which seems to dictates the way we believe, Muslim women, in rare interviews, say they prefer to wear the burkas. What we see in our headlines and hear about on TV are excesses in the treatment of women. I saw a video of a women shot by her husband with a gun someone handed him; he shot and killed her for infidelity. That reminds in my mind however, the sight of streets filled with women in western dressed in Muslim Bogor, Indonesia, where I worked did not make a comparable impact.   

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