Headscarf headache to cancel Obama Temple visit
Ask any travel agent, globe-trotter or gap-year student: The Golden Temple in Amritsar, north India, is both a site of pilgrimage for Sikhs and a must-see on any tourists’ Indian itinerary.
But India’s most famous foreign tourist, U.S. President Barack Obama, who will tour the country next month, may have to forego his visit.
It was supposed to be Obama’s only religious appointment on the 4-day trip to India, but a politically-sensitive row over the required headwear for the temple threatens to derail his plans.
According to local media reports, the President’s team has balked at the idea of Obama wearing a headscarf or skullcap — required for any visitor to the holy site — due to fears it may feed rumours circulating about his alleged Muslim beliefs.
The sight of droves of foreign tourists sporting colourful headscarves, most provided by the Temple, is as much a part of the dazzling experience as the temple itself.
Reportedly, the President’s aides proposed a modified version of Obama’s now customary baseball cap as a compromise. But sports caps fall foul of Temple regulations, placing him in a delicate position.
The White House is hoping to use the trip to strike firmer bonds with New Delhi, but officials are wary of any negative press back home with the crucial U.S. mid-term elections barely a fortnight away.
Ever since Obama, a Christian, declared his candidacy for the U.S. Presidency, groups have claimed that he was born and raised as a Muslim, citing his middle name “Hussein” and his Kenyan heritage.
Despite White House statements and press investigations rubbishing such claims on a regular basis, in August a poll showed 18 percent of Americans believe Obama is a Muslim, up from 11 percent in March 2009.
The President has a need to be wary about tricky foreign customs and the perils of appearing pro-Muslim in the predominantly right-wing U.S. press.
In April 2009, the President was criticised for bowing to King Abdullah during a visit to Saudi Arabia, described by the Washington Times as a “shocking display of fealty to a foreign potentate”.
The world’s most powerful man faces a tough choice.
President Obama can embrace the local culture at the risk of a political storm back home, or politely decline Amritsar’s invitation and pass up one of India’s most unmissable sites.