Barack Obama will bow to Japanese emperors and Saudi kings, but he balks at … putting a handkerchief on his head? The White House wants to show that it’s committed to a close relationship with India and has been looking for ways to symbolize it during his upcoming visit to the world’s largest democracy. One of the most obvious options is a visit to the Golden Temple at Amritsar, a site held sacred by members of all faiths in the multireligious country. But it has one problem:
But the United States has ruled out a Golden Temple visit, according to an American official involved in planning. Temple officials said that American advance teams had gone to Amritsar, the holy city that is the site of the temple, to discuss a possible visit. But the plan appears to have foundered on the thorny question of how Mr. Obama would cover his head, as Sikh tradition requires, while visiting the temple.
“To come to golden temple he needs to cover his head,” said Dalmegh Singh, secretary of the committee that runs the temple. “That is our tradition.”
Mr. Obama, a Christian, has struggled to fend off persistent rumors that he is a Muslim, and Sikhs in the United States have often been mistaken for Muslims.
Oh, please. How difficult is it to comply? Easier than giving a deep waist bow to a foreign potentate, as it happens:
Visitors to Sikh temples, known as gurudwaras, are required to cover their heads and remove their shoes. Baseball caps are not considered appropriate. Sikh scriptures require that men tie a piece of cloth on their heads, not simply put on a hat that can be easily taken off, because the act of tying has spiritual significance. Most non-Sikh visitors tie on kerchiefs sold by vendors outside the temple.
So he would rather insult his hosts — who have already reacted to Obama’s decision with dismay — than risk having a picture taken of him wearing a kerchief tied around his head? It could have been a good opportunity to point out the difference between Muslims and Sikhs, although truthfully his visit to the Golden Temple would likely have entirely escaped notice here in the US. Instead of providing leadership, Obama has once again made it all about himself.
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