I ran across a post on Redstate yesterday which seemed to rail quite harshly on the First Lady for pictures taken of her on a tour which led her through the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) yesterday and into Saudi Arabia today. The photographs that the poster is referring to are of her meeting with local women to announce a sweeping breast cancer awareness initiative involving doctors, researchers, and educators here in the U.S. and in the Arab world. This is an issue which touches the First Lady very deeply, as both her mother and grandmother had breast cancer.
Laura Bush was photographed with women wearing the traditional Muslim long overgarments called abayas (which cover all but the face, hands, and feet) along with the optional niqab (which covers the face and is also called a burqa). The poster criticizes the First Lady’s character strength for not refusing to be photographed with these women who were proving themselves to be less than equal to their male counterparts by wearing the traditional attire. The attire is not mandatory in the U.A.E., after all.
According to the poster:
But voluntary or no, this type attire is not common in the Islamic world, rather it is associated with a very particular strain of Islam. The strain that flew airplanes into the WTC and the strain that ruled Afghanistan.
Wow… just… wow. The poster may be well meaning, and is certainly well-read, but the ignorant and vitriolic propaganda is so thick in this statement that it’s no wonder the U.S. is losing popularity with the rest of the world. I don’t even know where to start picking it apart.
There is a spectrum in Islam, just as there is in Christianity, that goes between the very conservative (or traditional), to the very modern. Of course, just as some very conservative Christian women refuse to wear pants, many traditional Muslim women refuse to be in public without the niqab. Whether one may like it or not, this is a cultural issue, and not one of human rights. Asking these women to reveal their faces in these photographs would be even more contradictory to their culture than it would have been to ours if they refused to be pictured with her in pants and makeup. How uncomfortable were these women being pictured with Ms. Bush’s fully exposed neck and form-fitting pants?
Since just the 1980′s, the mortality rate for breast cancer in the United States has dropped considerably. The reason is that awareness here has allowed women to talk about it, and to be screened for it. The issue is not only medical, it is cultural as well, and it is up to these women and their peers to change that. The attire depicted in these photographs here is common enough in the Islamic world that we have begun to associate it in the U.S. media with Islam. Perhaps these women are repressed by our standards, but we must not forget that our own culture has a very similar past. Change is not necessary in the eyes of these women, and it will certainly not occur due to statements like these.
Saying that these women come from the same “strain” of Islam that flew 747s into the Twin Towers is like saying that Pope Benedict XVI is from the same “strain” of Christianity that murdered thousands of Muslims during the Crusades. There is absolutely beauty in Islam if you care to look for it. If we insist on driving these constant wedges between our cultures, we will never begin to understand each other.