There are far too many stupid controversies out there that it has been really difficult to write lately. But write today I shall, you betcha.
Yesterday we had the idiotic controversy over Michelle Obama in Saudi Arabia — She didn't wear a head scarf!!! It causes backlash
There are pictures of Former first ladies Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton (also SoS) , Angela Merkel, Condoleeza Rice, - to name a few - without a head scarf
and it (to the best of my recollection) barely made a blip on the radar (if at all). With First Lady Michelle Obama, all we do is talk about her clothing choices instead of the things she actually says.
It seems as though some people hate the Obamas more than a repressive Arab regime. That is absolutely insane. Want more proof? One person dared to say it like it is: It's racist
But those narratives are all false, on specific factual grounds as well as broader conceptual grounds. Declarations that she made a "bold political statement" don't just exist in a bizarrely fact-free environment, they perpetuate American misconceptions about Saudi Arabia and the Arab world that are fundamentally racist, rooted in the idea that Arabs are such inherently backward cavemen that even top government leaders would be somehow shocked to see an unveiled woman.
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.
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.
The Saudi government is indeed a despotic dictatorship and horrific human rights abuser — it has beheaded three people in the week since the king died — particularly when it comes to women. It is unfortunate and ironic that, in an attempt to highlight this problem, much of the American media has instead only perpetuated the different but very real American problem of Islamophobic and anti-Arab stereotyping.