In the clash of civilisations between Islam and “the West”, there are Churchills and there are Chamberlains. A recent New York Times front-page photo shows U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton donning a headscarf on her recent visit to Pakistan. But Michaëlle Jean, Canada’s Governor-General (and thus that country’s highest-ranking official after the Queen), recent journeyed to the “Af-Pak” region herself. Photos released by Rideau Hall show Her Excellency breezily taking questions from girls in an Afghan school build with Canadian development funds. The photos show a woman who appears free, confident, and easily engaged by her interactions with those around her. The contrast with Secretary Clinton couldn’t be greater.
The advice si fueris Romae, Romano vivito more, traditionally attributed to no less a sage than St. Ambrose, is sound counsel indeed, but one can’t help but wonder if in this circumstance the Governor-General’s way is the more appropriate one. How rare it is that we find Western leaders with enough self-assurance not to pander deferentially towards a culture alien to our own. Secretary of State Clinton, in her headscarf, broadcasts the signal that she is following an agenda set by others, whereas Governor-General Jean chooses to set the agenda herself — fitting for the viceroy of one of the most stable countries in the world, that enjoys an enviable constitutional longevity.
Still, the Governor-General’s head did not remain bare for the entirety of her visit to Afghanistan. Her Excellency is Colonel-of-the-Regiment of the three units of Canada’s household guard, and, donning the military beret, Madame Jean visited a memorial to the soldiers of her country who have given their lives in the endless conflict in Afghanistan. After the proper solemnities were observed, the Governor-General took a few moments to meet with some of the Canadian soldiers who stood guard during the ceremony.