Are you Arab? Do you know Arabs? What do you think of this picture?
This is Jon Favreau. He writes speeches for Barack Obama. He is the one on the left. Oh, look, where is his hand? He put this picture on Facebook.
The large, life-size photograph is a cardboard cutout of Senator Hillary Clinton, Obama’s new Secretary of State.
Where did Jon Favreau get this cutout? The Hillary Clinton presidential campaign had these cutouts in some of their offices. Volunteers liked to take their pictures with the cutout. Here are some pictures of the Hillary cutout from the Denver office, and people taking their picture with it (up in the top left corner).
Yesterday someone asked me what Arabs would think about this photo:
You have Middle Eastern background, don’t you? What will Muslims over there think of the Favreau photo when it reaches them?
Two men and a married woman…. Isn’t that some sort of crime?
Here was my answer:
It’s not usually so much a question of religion but of culture. I lived in the Middle East for a couple years, but it’s a huge place with more than one language and ethnic group, and I can only tell you about the Arabs I was in contact with.
The guy with the bottle–big harram (forbidden, like wasting bread). They might tipple a bit in private with the doors locked, or add something stealthy to a styrofoam cup, (guys only, of course) but public consumption of alcohol is a really big no-no.
Photograph of Hillary? Women over there rarely allow themselves to be photographed–it’s probably more or less up to the husband. But the reason is that the Arab “boyz” will invariably start making x-rated comments. Even a hint of impropriety, and the woman could be killed for reasons of family honor. The photo itself would probably be censored in conservative Saudi because her hair is showing, but Hillary is not showing too much skin in the photo, so from Hillary’s standpoint it’s a culturally acceptable photo. I did meet women who didn’t cover their hair, Moslem and Christian, but not in the rural areas.
The way the guys are acting would probably just confirm their stereotypical ideas of the depravity of American culture. If an Arab guy acted like that it would show a lack of religiousity and pious somberness. In fact, the photo will probably not make it over there. The Arab countries have press censorship (official, not de facto like we’ve got here) and they will not be eager to offend the incoming administration.
Whether the photo will make the rounds of private government officials is another question. The Arabs do understand we have different standards about women, even if they’re not sure what they are. They do have a few women in leadership positions but as their government is based on tribal affiliation, they are holders of seats that are specifically female, not women who have risen with in their communities. So it is very, very possible that the Arabs in decision-making positions will take their lead about Hillary’s real authority in representing the U.S. government from a photo like this. In other words, they will think she is window dressing only.
Yes, it undermines her ability to do her job, in so far as anyone thinks Hillary represents the Obama team and not her own constituency. Who knows, as the wife of a former President, and yes I did see Hillary there with my own eyes–she may be viewed as having her own power base. I think it is a convoluted issue, BO’s continued apparent agreement with Favreau over the respect he is willing to show Hillary may just play into her perceived independent influence, i.e. he doesn’t really want her but she’s too powerful for him to get rid of.
Of course I have to say here Obama is my senator and was my rep before that, and I would like to think he has the presence of mind to put Hillary in that position for the considerable skills she has to offer his team. But in the Middle East gestures mean so much, since words have to be censored, so the meaning could well be interpreted as Hillary not having the authority to speak for the Obama administration in foreign policy matters.
Is this something bad for the man in the picture? Is this something bad for Hillary Clinton?
Who are you, what do you think, and why?