Beliefnet
(Jan. 11, 2002)--One of the reasons Osama bin Laden is said to hate the United States isthat ever since the Gulf War of 1991, we have maintained military basesin his home country of Saudi Arabia. The bases are there to protect theSaudis against aggressors like Iraq, but the presence of infidels on thesame soil that the Prophet once trod apparently really burns in Osama'sbonnet. Yet there are other reasons why Muslims, by no means as crackedas bin Laden, might not want Americans in their country.

One is that these days an American military presence means womensoldiers, and women soldiers threaten the traditional role of women inSaudi society. Because of that culture clash and the destabilization itcould cause, the Defense Department enforces a rule on Americanservicewomen stationed in Saudi Arabia: Off the base, they have to wearthe same head-to-toe gown, called an "abaya," that Saudi women wear.

They can't drive cars, must sit in the back seat of vehicles and must beescorted by a man at all times. It's not quite up to Taliban standards,but it's close enough to give most Western women the willies.

Now, The Washington Post reports glowingly, one woman is challenging thePentagon rule with a lawsuit claiming it violates her constitutionalrights. Air Force Lt. Col. Martha McSally complains that the Pentagon'srule "abandons our American values that we all raised our right hand todie for."

Indeed, she's gained a good deal of support, from conservatives likeSen. Bob Smith of New Hampshire to Eleanor Smeal of the FeministMajority Foundation. Smeal simply denounces the Pentagon policy as"gross discrimination," while Smith explains that "what makes thisparticularly bizarre is that we are waging a war in Afghanistan toremove those abayas, and the very soldiers who are conducting that warhave to cover up."

Actually, somebody should explain to Smith that the reason we'refighting a war in Afghanistan has absolutely nothing to do withabolishing women's dress codes; the war has to do with the lateunpleasantness of Sept. 11. As for McSally, what "American values" didshe think she was swearing to die for when she signed up?

The reasons for the rule aren't really hard to find. Its purpose is toavoid offending deeply held Saudi religious and social customs that mostSaudis believe are ordained by God. Americans, men or women, military orcivilian, are guests in Saudi Arabia, and one rule of being a guest isthat you respect the practices your host demands. The Constitution,"human rights" and "American values" have little to do with it. It'scalled common courtesy.

How would Smith and the other Republican lawmakers supporting abolitionof the Pentagon rule like it if women from primitive Polynesian culturesshowed up here wearing the attire, such as it is, customary in theirsocieties? The ladies would find themselves in the slammer for indecentexposure, and Smith would be the first to turn the key on them. Thecliche that embalms this particular American value in rhetorical amberis that when in Rome, you do as the Romans do. If you can't or won't --well, you really don't have to go to Rome at all, do you?

McSally may have had to go to Saudi Arabia, but she didn't have to jointhe Air Force in the first place. Maybe that's yet another reason weshouldn't have women in the military anyway. If the United States isgoing to insist on being the global policeman and on using womensoldiers to do it, we can expect to make ourselves very unwelcome in alot more non-Western cultures in the future.

What is particularly funny about McSally's crusade is that it's reallyjust part of the perennial self-appointed U.S. mission to make the worldsafe for American parochialism. Usually that mission consists indemanding hotels like Holiday Inn and food like what you get at BurgerKing, but the equivalent of the Whopper in political ideology is thevery kind of provincial feminism straight from the boonies of Manhattanthat McSally is peddling.

When the Pentagon rule is scrapped, women like the Thoroughly ModernMcSally can waltz around downtown Mecca and Riyadh in their bikinis andtank-tops all they want. When they do, they may find themselvesharassed, attacked and even murdered in the streets by ThoroughlyMedieval Muslims, and sooner or later they and their allies back homewill whine that American soldiers just aren't doing enough to protectthe "American values" they represent.

It's clear enough why many Arabs besides Osama bin Laden don't wantAmerican troops in Saudi Arabia; it's only Americans like McSally whocan't understand it.

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