Yesterday, several news outlets reported that White House aides had scrapped a planned presidential tour of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, the spiritual center of the Sikh religion. The reason for avoiding the temple, according to unnamed sources: Head covering. As the New York Times explained, “[T]he 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.” (It was previously reported, in India, that Obama would likely visit the shrine.)
Obama, according to unnamed sources, did not want to stoke the false impression among many of his constituents that he is a Muslim, even though the Sikh religion is distinct from Islam. I was skeptical of the reports when I read them, given the scant sourcing, so I emailed two officials at the White House. I did not hear back. But on Wednesday, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs was asked about the articles aboard Air Force One.
Q Can you address some of the reports that the President has decided, or the White House has decided not to send the President to the Golden Temple because of concerns about him having to wear a headscarf?
MR. GIBBS: We pick sites on foreign trips based on what the President wants to accomplish. We’ve not finalized the schedule for Asia, including India, yet. We hope to do that over the course of the next week. We send advance people to many places in each country before we make decisions, in consultation with the host country, in this case the Indian government, about where to go.
Look, it’s a big country. We’d love to spend a lot more than the three allotted days that we have in India. This trip will focus our business on Mumbai and — in the cities of Mumbai and New Delhi. But we pick where we’re going to go on trips based on what we hope to accomplish.
This is what we call a classic non-denial. He seems to leave open the possibility of a visit to the Golden Temple, but he does not address whether or not there is White House concern about the president covering his head.