When I first saw the photograph of Laura Bush in a Saudi abaya, I didn’t want to look at it. Like a lot of people, whatever mixed feelings I have about her husband, I had always admired Mrs. Bush for a kind of earthy honesty. So I was more disappointed when I saw her wearing the symbols of oppression (abaya and veil) than I was, say, when I saw Hillary Clinton embracing hideous Suha Arafat. I guess I don’t expect much of politicians. [Why then politicians wives?-ed. Don’t know.]
Now I realize Laura Bush was in Saudi Arabia doing the good deed of promoting breast cancer awareness in a society where that is, to put it mildly, lacking, and that the abaya was presented to her by one of the women and that she probably put it on out of good manners.
But I wonder to what extent this was all planned by the Saudis. As has been publicized, Laura had not been expecting to don a headscarf:
“They do not expect nor encourage it,” of Western visitors at official meetings, said Bush’s spokeswoman, Sally McDonough. “As members of the official traveling party, we will not need to wear any head scarves or abayas at any point.”
Nevertheless, she did. Was she tricked into it? This is no small matter. The suppression of women’s rights is at the root of Wahhabi Islam. It is the major pathology of our times and seems to be growing. It would have taken some courage, maybe a kind of rudeness anathema to her, for Laura Bush to have said “no” to the abaya… but she should have.