Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Obama Campaign Bans Green Clothing on Middle East Trip

A green dome marks the location of the Prophet Muhammad's tomb inside the Prophet's Mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia. Green is the color associated with the family of the Prophet. The ban on wearing this color is rather silly; perhaps the Obama campaign should have also banned black (the color of Palestinian Islamic Jihad's flags), yellow (the predominant color of Hizbu'llah flags), and red (one of the colors of pan-Arab nationalism.) The campaign ban memo suggests that the Illinois senator needs some better informed advisers and researchers on staff. [Photograph Copyright by Christopher Anzalone]

Obama ban: What not to wear where?

By Carrie Budoff Brown & Ben Smith
Politico (July 22, 2008)

AMMAN, Jordan—An Obama campaign ban on green clothing during the candidate’s visits to Israel and Jordan has created wide puzzlement among observers of the Middle East.

In a memo to reporters, described as “a few guidelines we sent staff before departure to the Middle East,” Obama advance staffer Peter Newell laid out rules on attire for Jordan and Israel. First among them: “Do not wear green.”

An Obama aide explained to reporters that green is the color associated with the militant Palestinian group Hamas. But while the color does appear on Hamas banners, there is no particular symbolism to wearing green clothes, experts said. Moreover, green is more generally seen as a symbol of Islam.

“A ban on wearing green seems bizarre,” said Richard Bulliet, a professor of Middle Eastern history at Columbia University, who said the color is associated with the family of the Prophet Muhammed. “I would hazard the guess that the campaign's concern is more with distorted—and religiously inaccurate—reporting by Obama's detractors than with any actual signal that might be conveyed,” he said, referring to false rumors that Obama is a Muslim. “You don’t want to have some blogger come along and say ‘Obama is showing his true color.’” “I think they’re just being overcautious to a ridiculous degree,” Bulliet said.

Mohamad Bazzi, a professor of journalism at New York University and former Middle East bureau chief for Newsday, called the instruction “very strange.”

“I guess green is the ‘Hamas color’ — but it's also the color of Islam!” Bazzi said in an email from Beirut. “That's one way for the Obama campaign to alienate 1.4 billion Muslims worldwide.”

Though the campaign’s other sartorial instructions – directing women to dress demurely – are fairly standard, Bazzi said he’d never heard it suggested before that journalists not wear green while traveling in the Middle East, an observation echoed by other reporters. “I’ve been to the Middle East with Secretaries of State and on my own, and I’ve never heard of anything like that,” said [American conservative newspaper] New York Sun national security reporter Eli Lake.

Obama’s trip was organized independently of the State Department, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice advised American embassies Thursday to avoid helping presidential campaigns with their foreign trips.

Hamas, the group that controls the Gaza Strip, flies a green flag, as do some other Islamist groups. But the color appears on a vast array of official symbols, including the Saudi flag. Jordan’s Queen Rania al-Abdullah has been pictured in green outfits.

Early images from Obama’s trip also suggested that the rule is being observed in the breech: One cameraman on the tarmac in Amman can be seen in a green checked shirt.

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