Dress code for female troops in Saudi Arabia changed.
January 23, 2002 5:39 AM   Subscribe

Dress code for female troops in Saudi Arabia changed. An update to this thread. They don't have to wear abayas any more, but they still can't drive cars.
posted by JanetLand (28 comments total)
 
It seems like a right ruling to me. I guess this whole thing got started at the request of Saudi govn't? And is perhaps thought of a way to protect the female troops from danger. But the thing is the army is bending over backwards for their stupid rules, and even after all that they're being kicked out.

As far as the army goes, female and male troops should be equals and should be asked to do the same duties. If there is no other alternative than to wear these headdresses then they obviously won't be able to do their jobs and should be sent elsewhere, where they can. You have people shooting at you, and you have to wonder, would you want someone wearing a whole dress, that restraints running and walking without tripping, that makes reaching for a firearm cumbersome and inconvenient and even blends someone against the rest of the background so that identification is hard covering your back?
posted by tiaka at 6:55 AM on January 23, 2002


Women don't have to wear concealing clothing, but they aren't allowed to drive.

Am I nuts? Sounds like the Suadis have hit just the right balance to me.
posted by dong_resin at 7:31 AM on January 23, 2002


The clothing regulations were not put in place by the Saudi govt but by our military. Look a photos of M. Albright etc to see that there has not been a requirement or dress code other than dressing in a "respectable" manner--ie, no bikinis on the street.
Pentagon being suied but the great flying lady has said she does not want money, though she acknowledges that her career may have come to and end.
posted by Postroad at 8:29 AM on January 23, 2002


When in Rome.. I suppose. However, when muslims come to our culture we don't insist the women walk around without their religiously reverent garb. We allow them to choose whether they retain their garb or adopt our culture. Seems somehow insulting that we aren't offered the same courtesy.
posted by ZachsMind at 11:01 AM on January 23, 2002


When in Rome.. I suppose.

that might hold true, if the male military personnel were required to wear similar "culturally sensitive" clothing. They're not, they dress like military personnel and are in fact forbidden from wearing any local religious garb. When women travel outside the base, not only can't they drive, they need to sit in the back seat of the car and -- the kicker for me -- if questioned by the Saudis, the men must claim that the women are their wives. It's sort of a wonder this policy was upheld for so long.
posted by jessamyn at 12:11 PM on January 23, 2002


In other news, Colin Powell announced that visiting Arab pilots will, after all, be allowed to slaughter halal goats outside Edwards Airforce Base officer's mess, after one pilot threatened to sue his government for being required to observe Western sensibilities. Lt. Col. Muhammed Al-Raffik told National Mosque School students that, when a host country's customs conflict with the Koran, "that is where you draw the line."

Nope. Doesn't pass the reciprocity test for me.
posted by RichLyon at 3:08 PM on January 23, 2002


looks like many US military women still have to wear the garb after all

"Gen. Tommy Franks, head of the U.S. Central Command, issued an order last week saying that the abaya is no longer required for U.S. servicewomen 'but is strongly encouraged.'"
posted by jessamyn at 3:52 PM on January 23, 2002


Rerunning Best of RichLyon special, are we?

Tell me, is your example based on a real case, or is it merely self-righteous posturing?
posted by boaz at 4:16 PM on January 23, 2002


> the thing is the army is bending over backwards for their
> stupid rules,

They've found out what happens to you in the middle east if you bend over forwards.
posted by jfuller at 5:14 PM on January 23, 2002


hello boaz.

The comment was intended (both times!) as a (small) piece of thinking to evaluate whether, if the reciprocal case were to take place, it would feel OK from my/our perspective. Empathy. Categorical Imperative. A sort of 'Golden Rule' thing.

Placing it as a faux news update in the rerun thread seemed at the time an elegant, witty and, dammit it all, just plain clever way of exposing the irony of cultural imperialism, and stirring the hard-hearted into a poignant moment of empathy and self reflection. And I would have got away with it too, if it hadn't been for you dratted kids.

Now, to your question. A real case? Yes and no. While I served as an RAF pilot I had an opportunity to work alongside visiting pilots from around the world, including muslims from Arab countries. No, they didn't feel it necessary to sue their governments for having them consider their host nation before following their cultural norms. The irony of the contrast between their behavior and the Pilot-In-Slacks is, I think, illuminating.

Self-righteous posturing? While that byline could serve well on MetaFilter's banner, I'd prefer in this case to call it "[a] personal experience that might let other members see the topic in a new light." Yes - I'm sure I've read that somewhere.

;->
posted by RichLyon at 2:50 AM on January 24, 2002


A 'personal experience', only it was neither personal nor experienced? Cmon Rich, you can do better than that.

No, they didn't feel it necessary to sue their governments for having them consider their host nation before following their cultural norms

How wonderfully vague. What did they actually (you know, as in observable reality) do to 'consider their host nation'? Ate non-halal food? Went to strip joints? Got rip-roaring drunk? Refrained from beating women who dressed immodestly or drove cars?

Ok, that last one was a cheap shot, but so was your 'reciprocal case'. First, these people are pilots, not butchers, so they're probably not the least bit interested in slaughtering goats. Second, The US Air Force already serves halal meals, so the visitors have the same cultural experience in either country, i.e. they get served a meal appropriate to their culture (not the visiting country's) by the kitchen staff. Third, you're assuming some sort of indignant response from Americans toward halal-goat-slaughtering which IMHO doesn't exist; There's a halal butcher 20 minutes from where I live (and I live in Connecticut for chrissakes). Yes, you can buy goat there.
posted by boaz at 6:56 AM on January 24, 2002


Yes boaz - I have personally experienced Arab military pilots in a western country accepting without protest certain cultural limitations imposed on them as guests in the host country.

One such pilot, who was a friend, speculated humorously to me one afternoon at a mess BBQ how it would go down if he brought a live goat and slaughtered it, as was the practice with his family BBQs back home. He was exquisitely aware of the impact this would have on his fellow officers and their partners - nothing quite like a bit of squirting arterial blood to remind you just exactly what normally happens 20 minutes away to allow your BBQ to take place.

He also, would you believe, regarded himself as something of an ambassador for his country and seemed particularly careful to avoid "offence" to his hosts out of regard for the impression that might leave about his country and culture - eating during Ramadan before flying, attending social events at which alcohol flowed freely, etc.

It strikes me as apposite. I assert that the behaviour of the litigatious pilot in question - who seems to me to represent an exact reciprocal case - compares unfavourably. I assert she has little regard for her hosts and no regard for the damage she does to her culture's reputation - at exactly the time when she and we should be acutely aware of both. But I shall desist from making the point further. I enjoyed the exchange - thanks.
posted by RichLyon at 12:07 PM on January 24, 2002


Yes boaz - I have personally experienced Arab military pilots in a western country accepting without protest certain cultural limitations imposed on them as guests in the host country.

One such pilot, who was a friend, speculated humorously to me one afternoon at a mess BBQ how it would go down if he brought a live goat and slaughtered it, as was the practice with his family BBQs back home. He was exquisitely aware of the impact this would have on his fellow officers and their partners - nothing quite like a bit of squirting arterial blood to remind you just exactly what normally happens 20 minutes away to allow your BBQ to take place.

He also, would you believe, regarded himself as something of an ambassador for his country and seemed particularly careful to avoid "offence" to his hosts out of regard for the impression that might leave about his country and culture - eating during Ramadan before flying, attending social events at which alcohol flowed freely, etc.

It strikes me as apposite. I assert that the behaviour of the litigatious pilot in question - who seems to me to represent an exactly reciprocal case - compares unfavourably. I assert that she has little regard for her hosts and no regard for the damage she does to her culture's reputation - at exactly the time when she and we should be acutely aware of both. But I shall desist from making the point further. I enjoyed the exchange - thanks.
posted by RichLyon at 12:09 PM on January 24, 2002


sheesh. OK - I'll make the same point twice (no - wait - that's three times now) and then won't say any more. Done.
posted by RichLyon at 12:12 PM on January 24, 2002


The point you seem to be missing while making your point is that an actual case of discrimination can not be 'reciprocal' to a made-up case of discrimination any more than killing goats can be compared to killing unicorns.

However, if the RAF pilots were pressuring Muslims to eat in the day during Ramadan or drink alcohol, then shame on you guys; The USAF has instituted policies prohibiting exactly this kind of insensitive, discriminatory behavior. It's funny how you guys think of cultural sensitivity only with respect to the visitor's behavior, not the host's.
posted by boaz at 1:19 PM on January 24, 2002


The case is not 'made-up' - the limitations requested by us of them were just as real as the limitations requested by the Saudis of this pilot. Your argument seems to be predicated on the notion that you have to sue someone before an act can be considered real.

There was no pressure. They were not compelled to eat, but were not permitted to fly unless they had - their choice. Alcohol was consumed in their presence which, of itself, can be offensive to some Muslims.

There is, of course, a much bigger issue at stake here: a decade of peace and prosperity has led many people to believe that military standards of behaviour can and should be the same as civilian ones. They cannot. The military is paid for - by you - to act as an instrument of foreign policy, and to enact that policy without prejudice. One strand of current policy, like it or not, is for the US to pursue an international charm offensive in order to defang anti-Western sentiment. Her behaviour has been uncharming.

If she wants to fly and wear slacks, she can join South West Airlines. Unfortunately, she signed up to fly A10s and - well - following orders is a non-negotiable part of the deal (don't for one second in your riposte try to equate being ordered to adhere to local dress customs with being ordered to bomb a civilian hospital). So she doesn't agree with that order. Well, whatever next? "No sir, I don't believe I will fly that mission today, I don't AGREE with it. I'll see you in court, General".
posted by RichLyon at 4:19 PM on January 24, 2002


The 'made-up' case was the goat-slaughtering metaphor. Since you already admitted it was merely a humorous anecdote from a Muslim pilot, I don't see why you're still claiming it's somehow truthful. You needn't worry about that though; whatever 'real limitations' you may have in mind, I'm 100% sure it's not in the same league as the decidedly real limitations placed on Lt. Col. McSally.

I wonder if you can appreciate the irony of your juxtaposing your still example-less claims about Muslim pilots with 2 separate examples of ways in which their culture was respected despite their visitor status: being allowed to skip flight duty in order to fast for Ramadan and being allowed to not drink (I think you'll allow that casual drinking is a cornerstone of modern English culture). That makes you very good hosts, but awful hypocrites. The Saudi rulers, on the other hand, are both poor hosts and odious hypocrites. Given that they also 'request' that male US soldiers be forbidden to wear local garb, it is obvious that the dress code is not intended to adapt visitors to their culture at all. I'll let you ponder why they would make such a blatant distinction, requiring them to reject cultural adaptation completely in one case and embrace it in the other.

So, here we are, graciously protecting a ruthless dictatorship, that has in return been filling its carefully state-controlled media with ridiculous anti-american propaganda, and funneling millions of dollars to the very terrorist groups that we're fighting against. Assuming a 'charm offensive' ever existed, it can it this point be considered a failed strategy and, like it or not Mr. Lyon, the story that started this thread shows the Pentagon is starting to realize the limits of charm in geopolitics.

One last note concerning insubordination. I'm not sure how the RAF operates, but in the US Armed Forces, even a blatantly illegal order from a superior must be obeyed, though the soldier can complain about it later. Lt. Col. McSally's behavior has been entirely consistent with that maxim, so the charges of either insubordination or pre-insubordination are really not apropos to her case.
posted by boaz at 7:06 PM on January 24, 2002


If she wants to fly and wear slacks, she can join South West Airlines. Unfortunately, she signed up to fly A10s and - well - following orders is a non-negotiable part of the deal (don't for one second in your riposte try to equate being ordered to adhere to local dress customs with being ordered to bomb a civilian hospital). So she doesn't agree with that order.

There's a lot of "she's" in there. You might as well put in there that "she" is regarded as a second-class citizen not just by the Saudi culture but also by the military. Shame on the American military for furthering a double standard on the women that serve in their ranks.

The fact is, civilian women living in Saudi (wives of military men or other civilians working there) are not required to wear the Abaya or Burqa. These women are neither confined to the airbase. They get around Saudi territory in jeans and T-shirts and seem to receive no ill harm because of this.

So... why the military women? What makes them greater targets? Nothing. Seems a clear-cut case of discrimination to me.
posted by amanda at 7:24 PM on January 24, 2002


In the interest of being a good guest at an American forum and reviving the long-dormant European 'charm offensive' towards America, RichardLyon should stop attempting to impose his foreign, chauvinistic standards on us, and should instead show respect for our culture by conforming to it. His continued flaunting of our deep-seated cultural hatred of misogyny will only serve to erode the good-will that others have worked so hard to create between our countries. Moreover, he should consider it his duty to be a goodwill ambassador to our country. He has, to date, proven an uncharming, disagreeable guest.

How's that for a reciprocal case? ;)
posted by boaz at 8:36 PM on January 24, 2002


Woahhh - thread skid...... mysogeny? chauvinism? An American forum?? I thought we were discussing the inevitable tension that exists between the necessities of military existence and the norms of civilian ones. I feel I've been hijacked by about 15 politically correct activists.

Clear up one misconception. There are a lot of she's in there because the article is about a woman who sued her government as a result of her distaste for an order she has been given. It may suit you to impute a motive of mysogeny in order to avoid my only (and, frankly, not very contentious) point - that military personnel cannot be subject to the same considerations as civillians because of the nature of their work. However, my comments are *absolutely* independent of the sex of the subject.

As for the rest, boaz, I feel the air has rather gone out of the souffle. An American forum? Not conforming to American culture is disrespectful? Thesis, antithesis and synthesis is ...disagreeable (there is a pleonasm buried in there, somewhere, I feel sure)? Imposing foreign standards? The only way I can imagine MeFi conforming to your view of the world is if a thread consists of someone saying something nice (preferably non-gender/disability/sex specific, and preferably about America) followed by a long list of everyone agreeing companionably. If that's the case then I'm in the wrong place - I want, through the healthy competition of ideas, to improve my understanding of the world (and you were starting to talk me round until that last one).

I'm hesitant to announce my withdrawal from the thread again, but rather fear it has become inevitable.

;->
posted by RichLyon at 6:13 AM on January 25, 2002


Sorry for the offense. I was ironically portraying your status on Metafilter as comparable to your claims of the status of visitors abroad. I thought your point had been that not conforming to X country's culture while being hosted by them was disrespectful, and my little joke was intended to make it plain that a guest does his host more good by bringing his culture than by abandoning it in the name of courtesy. I see by your reaction that you instead feel that courtesy is something due to English and Saudi hosts but not Americans. I'm hoping that that is merely a joke as well.

One clarification: Soldiers and civilians should have different standards of behavior; I never claimed different. However, soldiers and 'ambassadors' should have different standards of behavior too.
posted by boaz at 10:25 AM on January 25, 2002


OK, one more clarification: I never, even jokingly, accused you of misogyny. My accusation of misogyny is, I believe clearly, aimed at the Saudi government. Then again, I thought it was clear that that whole comment was merely sarcasm of a similar type as your fake press release.
posted by boaz at 10:39 AM on January 25, 2002


That's OK boaz - non-verbal communication is a treacherous medium. I like jokes.

The misogyny thing is interesting. It is hard to believe, if women were hated in the USAF, that they would make senior officer rank and fly $10m aircraft. It may well be that the USAF are prejudiced (it may well be that we are prejudiced - that's the trouble with unconscious behaviour. All I can say is I don’t believe I am, and people who know me don’t tell me I am). Either way, I think a defence of prejudice to explain her actions is a non sequitur i.e.

(1) the USAF believes military personnel should follow orders, even if that results in restrictions to their personal freedoms
(2) some prejudiced people believe in restricting the personal freedoms of women
(3) therefore the USAF are prejudiced people

This compares with

(1) the USAF believes military personnel should bomb targets, even if this results in inflicting civilian deaths
(2) terrorists believe in inflicting civilian deaths
(3) therefore the USAF are terrorists!

So it equally may well be that the pilot is exploiting the prejudice argument to achieve her own ends. You can’t really tell from this article and you would need to cite other evidence to show that they deliberately select their policies to disadvantage women to convince me. However, if you go down that road I think you will find that the USAF, in common with most military forces, are intolerant of any issue which in their view limits their effectiveness as a fighting force. That takes us into the realms of physical disabilities, sexual orientation, political outlook and all the other considerations that a modern commander (of either sex) has to make in our prosperous, peaceful times. We can speculate from the comfort of our homes what sort of moral positions people who hold responsibility for other people's lives should take, but in that, I am in danger of another rerun, and I got quite badly toasted on that one too!
posted by RichLyon at 2:25 AM on January 26, 2002


Whoa there, Rich Lyon, reread that; I never accused the USAF of misogyny either. Follow me here, that's the Saudi rulers. Ironically, as a non-US citizen, you probably are unaware of the amount of struggle that was required before women were allowed to fly combat planes. There were plenty of 'uncharming' court cases involved before the Pentagon relented on that one as well. Plenty of unfounded speculation on how that would hurt our combat effectiveness as well. Do you actually have any proof that this change would hurt our effectiveness? I think, since it directly harms the Armed Forces' recruiting ability, the current situation is quite harmful enough.

We can speculate from the comfort of our homes what sort of moral positions people who hold responsibility for other people's lives should

Do you mean the Pentagon or Ms. McSally? You are quite guilty of that sort of idle speculation over the latter's moral positions.

It is important to note that the US Armed Forces is under civilian control, that it is in the end the job of US civilians living safe in their homes (like the White House, for a direct example) to decide what actions it should take. One need only consider the average military dictatorship's success in enforcing 'prosperous, peaceful times' to agree that this is a fine idea. The point is that the USAF is paid to defend our freedom, not to defend the cultural standards of a bunch of misogynistic dictators.

Let me repeat one very important point you're flat-out ignoring: She at no time refused to follow orders. She did wear the abaya when going off-base in Saudi Arabia. That also means that she was not being 'uncharming guest' during her time there either. The accusations you have been throwing out against her personally are simply untrue regardless of the current policy's (in)correctness.
posted by boaz at 7:28 AM on January 26, 2002


OK boaz. I understand your position on misogyny. Many of the more perfunctory comments in this thread and its predecessor do appear to assume either misogyny or prejudice, so it seemed worth addressing.

Do you actually have any proof that this change would hurt our effectiveness? I argue only that overturning your orders publicly in a court of law for reasons predicated on a specious extension of civilian mores weakens the USAF. I do not argue that hiring women does. Lt. Col. Martha McSally invited speculation when she choose to pursue a public prosecution. You are quite guilty of that sort of idle speculation - that would be why I said "we".

it is in the end the job of US civilians living safe in their homes ... to decide what actions it should take. I do not disagree. But I would not agree if, by extension, you are arguing that it is your job to prescribe every aspect of their conduct. There is a fascinating quote from "A Few Good Men" which goes "I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said "thank you" and went on your way. Otherwise I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand at post."

Now, in the film, Jessop is portrayed as a sexist monster and gets his very satisfying come-uppance - but the script, for all its Hollywood dumb-down, actually incorporates a number of real issues that arise in the tension between civilian and military mores. Sure, it is legitimate and necessary for you to instruct the military to ensure, say, respect for the Geneva Convention for prisoners (OOOOOOPS!). But where does your remit end? Civilian dress code? Wheelchair access in Forward Command Posts? Smoking in foxholes? Noise exposure? Blood pathogen contamination in hand-to-hand combat? Cockpit ergonomics? (I get Carpal Tunnel syndrome just thinking about the position of the A10 gun-switch). Each of these are right and proper interests in civilian places of work, for which employers have a legal responsibility to attend to. None of them is the least bit your business in the running of a Forward Control Point in Bagram.

So I think the answer is to give military commanders very broad boundaries and strategic direction and then - in view of the responsibility you are asking them to take on your behalf - you step back and give them space to operate in and some latitude. And if the local commander (i.e. person with responsibilities to more than just him/herself, in contrast to Lt. Col. McSally) thinks that a certain dress code is required in order to limit the potential for harm to his/her people through incited hostility, then trust him/her – (s)he has to write the letters to the dead people’s parents, after all, not you or your Congressman.

And I am not ignoring your point. I fully acknowledge that she followed orders – right up to the point where she got them changed by traipsing your government through the public courts.
posted by RichLyon at 4:59 AM on January 27, 2002


I argue only that overturning your orders publicly in a court of law for reasons predicated on a specious extension of civilian mores weakens the USAF. I do not argue that hiring women does. Lt. Col. Martha McSally invited speculation when she choose to pursue a public prosecution.

Non-discrimination against women is a civilian more that has been seeping into the Armed Forces. Both cases fall into that category whether you support both or not. These earlier women endured a great deal of speculation too; When one of the early pilots died in a plane crash, it was idly speculated by many (both in and out of the service) that she (and by extension female pilots in general) were not capable. Speciousness is in the eye of the beholder, and many people over here viewed the court cases over that exactly how you view this one. You will be happy to hear that they have been proven wrong.

But where does your remit end? Civilian dress code? Wheelchair access in Forward Command Posts? Smoking in foxholes? Noise exposure? Blood pathogen contamination in hand-to-hand combat? Cockpit ergonomics?

The answer is that we also decide where our remit ends; Sorry, RichLyon, but that's just the way it works over here. Your ridiculous examples really don't help to clarify the issue either. Since the Pentagon has already admitted that its policy was mistaken and changed it, it's a tough ride at this point to compare it to actions that were neither requested by civilians nor accepted by the military.

And if the local commander (i.e. person with responsibilities to more than just him/herself, in contrast to Lt. Col. McSally) thinks that a certain dress code is required in order to limit the potential for harm to his/her people through incited hostility, then trust him/her

If the military forces defending Saudi Arabia need to fear being killed by their hosts over their manner of dress, then that's a bigger issue than a dress code. Oddly, I have much greater faith in Saudi hospitality than you seem to.

And I am not ignoring your point. I fully acknowledge that she followed orders – right up to the point where she got them changed by traipsing your government through the public courts.

Then why have you continuously linked her actions to outright insubordination in this thread? Or called her an 'uncharming guest' when she was 5000 miles away from her supposed host for this lawsuit's filing? Please don't acknowledge it one second and ignore it the next.
posted by boaz at 8:37 AM on January 27, 2002


boaz, when any pilot crashes, many speculate in and out of the service that the pilot was incapable, regardless of sex. This is because (1) it avoids having to assume there is an expensive hardware or system problem that needs fixing (2) dead people don't defend. I respect the sincerity of your evidence, but I'm still left with the 'USAF are terrorists' non sequitur.

Ridiculous examples...and all ones under active review by NATO in response for the need to guard against litigation. Agree - the subjects of the examples are ridiculous. The examples themselves, being real, are of course not. admitted its policy was mistaken As I understand it, they lost a lawsuite - I presume your faith in the courts is such that you regard the two as equivalent, which is by any measure an admirably courageous viewpoint. then that's a bigger issue than dress code...that would be my point. much greater faith... last heard by the Mogadishu battalion commander (OK cheap shot - mea culpa). Never mentioned insubordination once. That she has dragged your government through court at the cost of international derision is uncharming.

OK boaz. It has been great fun but I think we've sucked the marrow out of this one. I can see this is an issue which you feel very strongly about, I admire the tenacity of your support and I respect that. I also appreciate you taking the time to fill in for me some of the context missing from the reports, particularly on the perceived prejudiced treatment of women, which has helped me to understand now why the plaintiff has received approbation from some quarters for her actions. I leave the last words on this thread to you, and look forward to the next debate with you.
posted by RichLyon at 1:56 PM on January 27, 2002


Thank you for the debate as well.

The one thing I should clarify is that they did not lose the lawsuit; it's still wending it's way through the court system. Their policy change, while doubtless prompted by the lawsuit, was in no way court-mandated.
posted by boaz at 2:02 PM on January 27, 2002


« Older Fed Up? Happy? Excited?   |   All that glitters ain't gold. Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments