Lost in the debate over the military’s treatment of Taliban and al-Qaida detainees at Camp X-Ray is the story of an American soldier whose rights are being compromised.
Air Force Lt. Col. Martha McSally is the highest-ranking woman combat pilot in the United States Air Force, and she has recently filed a sexual discrimination suit against her military superiors.
McSally, who has been stationed in Saudi Arabia for several years and has flown several missions over Afghanistan, has been compelled by the Air Force to wear traditional Muslim dress while off the military base.
McSally has flown over 100 sorties into Iraq, but must allow her subordinate men to drive her around, open doors and carry out menial tasks.
It’s demeaning, and it’s ridiculous.
Late Wednesday, MSNBC reported that the Air Force would drop the compulsion factor and make the dress code optional but “highly suggested.”
That’s not enough, McSally and others say, because it could mean that high-ranking women could avoid it, while lower-ranking female officers would still be forced to wear the black robes.
The Air Force says the policy is intended to foster good relations and show respect for the host nation’s culture.
“There are host nation sensitivities,” Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell. “We care about the customs and the considerations of the host nations in which we operate.”
But even the Saudis say they only ask their American military visitors to dress modestly, not cover themselves according to Islamic tradition.
“There has been no requirement from the authorities in Saudi Arabia demanding these requirements,” says Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on Islamic-American Relations, according to MSNBC.
McSally objected for five years, and was told last April that the policy was under review. She filed suit after eight months of no action, arguing that the requirement is a form of gender and religious discrimination.
“To be commanding and directing as a lieutenant colonel in my job and then have to hand the keys to my subordinate men and sit in the back and put this very demeaning outfit on,” says McSally, “Again, that is a faith that is not my own.”
State Department women don’t wear Arab dress, nor do female military spouses. So why should McSally?
“The Saudis aren’t asking for it, the State Department doesn’t do it and it would be very reasonable to wear very conservative western clothing as we are serving to protect our interests and theirs,” McSally said.
Recently, legislators from the House and Senate sent a letter of complaint to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, agreeing with McSally.
The Air Force needs to wake up. Congress lifted the ban on women in the cockpit in 1993. It’s time to review policy outside the cockpit.
The Air Force’s most prominent woman pilot should not be coerced, against her will, into obeying the rules of a society to which she does not belong – especially when this obedience is completely unnecessary.
And here’s the kicker: According to an MSNBC report last week, Saudi Arabia is the only nation in which this is military policy.
I would still disagree with the policy if it was implemented across the board, but if that were the case, at least it would be uniform. Right now, it’s not, and that makes it even more unacceptable.
The fundamental issue here is probably the U.S.’ need to remain in the good graces of the Saudis, our biggest oil supplier. Late last week, the Saudi government floated the idea that it would like to see the U.S. military vacate its holy lands. What is the military willing to do next for them to let us stay?
McSally is a soldier willing to take on Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Let her wear the uniform of the United States Air Force.
Becky is a junior journalism and history major.