In praise of Michelle Obama

The title of this little post contains words that I never, ever thought I would put together in quite that sequence.  And sincerely, without a hint of sarcasm.  But life and people throw some unexpected things your way, and if someone is right, no matter who, praise is in order.

And in her visit to Saudi Arabia with her husband to offer condolences to the new "moderate" king who has continued the flogging, beheading, and restrictions on women of his recently deceased "moderate" king brother, Michelle Obama acted in a praiseworthy manner.

The shrieking headline on Drudge Report, "Defiant Michelle Refuses to Wrap," was accompanied by a photo of a modestly dressed Michelle in a colorful long-sleeved tunic, long matching shirt, and loose-fitting slacks.

I read there and later on other sites how Obama delicately navigated restrictions of her host's religious and cultural standards with her very different, often opposing, ones.

Most of us face similar problems on a far lesser scale.  For instance, a considerate, knowledgeable Christian host would never serve a pork dish to Jewish and/or Muslim guests he invited for dinner, or even to those with a known allergy to this item; conversely a Christian guest would never bring this dish to hosts if he knew it violated their religious, cultural, or health needs.  Neither guest or host has to embrace the other's religious or cultural practice, but merely understand the situation to avoid insult or misunderstanding from either side.

As is well-known, most women in most Muslim-dominated countries, whether Muslim or not, wear long loose robes and cover their hair; in some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, they also cover their faces.

Under the kingdom's strict dress code for women, Saudi females are required to wear a headscarf and loose, black robes in public. Most women in Saudi Arabia cover their hair and face with a veil known as the niqab. But covering one's head is not required for foreigners, and some Western women choose to forego the headscarf while in Saudi Arabia. (snip)

Saudi Arabia imposes many restrictions on women on the strict interpretation of Islamic Shariah law known as Wahhabism. Genders are strictly segregated. Women are banned from driving, although there have been campaigns in recent years to lift that ban. Guardianship laws also require women to get permission from a male relative to travel, get married, enroll in higher education or undergo certain surgical procedures.

Obviously Obama – and most American women – do not face these restrictions.  Certainly they consult with others about these activities – and others consult with them about ideas – but daily, pervasive restrictions, no.  But, as a representative of her husband, and her country, she had to balance the culture of her hosts without violating hers and her country's.  (And please, no comments about how she would look better with her face covered; this is nasty and uncalled for.)  And on this occasion I think she did a fine balancing job.

Many Saudis did not feel the same way.

Politico reported that Saudi Arabians on Twitter criticized the first lady for forgoing the local custom, using hashtags such as "Michelle_Obama_Immodest."

As a delegation of dozens of Saudi officials - all men - greeted the Obamas in Riyadh, some shook hands with Mrs. Obama. Others avoided a handshake but acknowledged the first lady with a nod as they passed by.

Interestingly, Michelle Obama covered  her hair when she visited Muslim Indonesia over four years ago; at this contemporary event, no attention was paid to the fact that Condoleezza Rice, who was also in attendance, was also bareheaded.

So, giving credit where credit is due, on this occasion Michelle Obama did a fine job.  Now hopefully she'll change so I can state this for her other 99.999999% actions.  Sadly, I don't think this will happen soon, but there is always hopey and changey.