White House

Melania Trump in Saudi Arabia: Hijab-free and proudly American

To her credit, First Lady Melania Trump did not wear hijab, a head covering, when she accompanied her husband the president on their recent state visit to Saudi Arabia.

Her head was bare, her hair was long, she was proudly, determinedly, naked-faced--and she wore elegant, flowing, pants.

Women have been killed in The Kingdom and in parts of the Muslim world for appearing like this in public.

Imprisoning women in moving sensory deprivation isolation chambers is a violation of basic human rights.

Melania lived. These rules don't apply to her nor should they.

In my view, they should not apply to Saudi women either. After all, burying women alive in public, imprisoning them in moving sensory deprivation isolation chambers, is a violation of basic human rights.

Please recall: In 2016, when Iran held American sailors captive in the Persian Gulf, that they forced the sole female Navy sailor to don hijab on board. This is how Barbary pirates once treated their captured Christian female slaves.

Adopting, willingly, such non-Western customs which subordinate and hobble women or voluntarily "pretending" that one is a Muslim when that isn't the case – this is typical “dhimmi” behavior. In other words, to appease the aggressor, to stave off punishment or death, infidels trapped in Muslim lands (Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, the “wrong” kind of Muslims), have, and still do, pre-emptively obey Sharia law or tribal customs.

Melania, like First Lady Michelle Obama before her, did not conduct herself as so many other high-profile Western non-Muslim women have in the past. Both politicians and celebrities -- Hillary and Chelsea Clinton on a visit to Yasser Arafat; Condoleezza Rice on a visit to Tajikistan; Laura Bush on a visit to Saudi Arabia; Madonna, three Kardashian sisters, and Rihanna, etc. – have foolishly donned hijab as a gesture of respect for this custom which subordinates women.

However, Clinton, Rice, and Bush, and more recently the UK’s Teresa May and Germany’s Angela Merkel, have also gone bare-headed in visits to Saudi Arabia. They do not seem to be following a consistent script.

Pay attention: the Saudis did not seem offended by the bare faces and heads of the First Lady, Melania, and First Daughter Ivanka Trump.

And why is that? Perhaps one reason is we can be reasonably sure the Saudis really liked President Trump’s deal of $110 billion worth of radar systems, artillery, tanks, armored personnel carriers, ships, patrol boats, Blackhawk helicopters, missiles and missile defense systems.

Another reason could be President Trump describing the 9/11 attacks on America as “barbaric” and referring to “the devastation of the Boston Bombing” and the “horrible killings in San Bernardino and Orlando” as “the true toll of ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas.”

Saudis might respect this view. After all, they exiled Bin Laden from the Kingdom, even as they also exported extreme Wahhabi-Sunni ideas globally.

Meanwhile, hijab-free Ivanka Trump’s meeting with a group of Saudi women allowed them to appear with her in a photo, wearing only their long, black abayas and headscarfs. For a moment, they, too, were liberated from their confining face veils. And they were smiling.

I hope that Melania and Ivanka Trump continue to give Saudi women and women throughout the Islamic world more reasons to smile as they continue to follow this naked-faced script.

In his speech, the president, with his regal and bare-headed wife seated nearby, also called for “promoting the aspirations and dreams of all citizens who seek a better life—including women.”

Let’s hope this includes acting to ban the burqa in America.

Dr. Phyllis Chesler is a fellow at the Middle East Forum and Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women's Studies. She is the author of 4 studies about honor killings and 16 books.