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by David Westheimer


Awhile back I wrote about Lt. Col. Martha McSally (Women in Blue), the ranking woman fighter pilot in the U. S. Air Force, who resented being required to wear the abaya, that all-enveloping garment worn by Muslim women, when she went outside Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia, where she was stationed. And she couldnt drive a car outside the base, or even ride in the front seat.

She told CBSs Leslie Stahl, "I can fly a single-seated aircraft in enemy territory but I cant drive a vehicleIm going to challenge it. "

And she did. She sued Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Steve Aden, one of her lawyers, said, "Even though she is commander for all those enlisted men and junior officers around her, she is ordered to sit in the back seat, wear this Muslim attire and in essence pretend she is a Muslim woman"

And, I said, Lt. Col. McSally won her lawsuit.

But I was wrong.

When the Air Force sent out an e-mail to commanders that wearing the abaya "is not mandatory but is strongly encouraged," it was telling women in blue like Lt. Col. McSally that while they didnt have to wear the garment they better darn well do it if they knew what was good for them.

So now, it seems, that wasnt good enough.

Rick Maze, a staff reporter, writes in an early July Air Force Times that the U.S. Senate has voted 93 to zip that female service members not be required "or even encouraged" to wear the abaya off-base.

Republican Senator Bob Smith of New Hampshire, chief sponsor of this amendment to the 2003 defense authorization bill, said, "It is incredible to think that a woman in military uniform has to cover that uniform up with an abaya."

Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan said the Pentagons change from requiring to "strongly encouraging the wearing of the garment" is, at best, superficial change. A strong encouragement is practically the same as an order in military terms."

The House of Representatives had earlier approved similar legislation, Air Force Times staffer Maze writes but it was not part of the annual defense budget. Both pieces of legislation bar military commanders from requiring directly or by suggestion that women wear the garment and prohibit any kind of action being taken against women who decline to wear the abaya.

You may have noticed that none of this mentions the fact that servicewomen in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to drive vehicles off-base. Which I guess means even if the legislation passes they still wont be allowed to drive in that Middle Eastern country.

Im glad I dont live in Saudi Arabia.

Dody does all the driving.

© David Westheimer for

Editor's Note: Read David's other articles on Lt. Col. Martha McSally: Women in Blue; More Martha; as well as a reference in Killer Chick.


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