Was Michelle Obama not covering her hair in Saudi really a bold statement?

Was Michelle Obama not covering her hair in Saudi really a bold statement?
Was Michelle Obama not covering her hair in Saudi really a bold statement?
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The News Minute | January 29, 2015 | 03.20 pm IST

Michelle Obama was in the centre of controversy during the US President Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia ,  a trip which was made right after their India visit.

The issue - her hair .

As pictures of her wearing a loose, full-length dress with long sleeves were circulated on social media, there was online criticism against her decision not to wear a headscarf during the official visit.

American reports however, went on to state that the First Lady' not wearing a headscarf was "enough to illustrate the stark limitations under which Saudi women live"

Was it a symbol of defiance by the United States or was it disrespect on part of the US First Lady?

While foreigners are not forced to wear headscarves in the country, most Saudi women are seen in public wearing niqabs covering their heads.

While some have praised Michelle Obama’s stand not to conform to the country’s rules, her going unveiled is far from the first time that a prominent foreign woman has done the same.

Michelle Obama is famous for her well-toned arms. While many in India might have been disappointed that she shied away from donning the traditional saree, many women in the past have bared their arms and left their head uncovered in the Arab state including former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s wife, Gursharan Kaur.

In the year  2012, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal and Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled al-Hamad Al-Sabah, her head was left uncovered.

                                                                                                                    Picture courtesy: arabianbusiness.com

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice attended a meeting with the then King of Saudi Arabia Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in 2007

German Chancellor Angela Merkel next to King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz during a welcoming ceremony at the Royal Palace in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Laura Bush in Saudi Arabia in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 2007.

                                                                                                                    Picture courtesy: White House archives                                   

Let's imagine for an instant that Michelle Obama did wear a veil. The kind of reaction within the United States would have been far more controversial than it has been now. Not only has she done what was exactly expected of her, the kind of reaction by American media has been competely unwarranted. 

US senator Ted Cruz congratulated Michelle Obama for "standing up for women & refusing to wear Sharia-mandated head-scarf in Saudi Arabia". According to Vox, media declarations that she made a bold political statement only perpetuate Amercian misconception about fundamentally racist ideas regarding the Arab world. 

It also adds that the kind of reaction that she received ( reports by local American media along with some social media outbursts on her appearance) was far lighter than what she would have received had she worn a veil.

The American media has only achieved one thing through its reportage - added to the existing anti-Arab stereotyping that prevail in America, said the report. 

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