I was listening the other day to the 5 January podcast episode of The Young Turks, a left-wing political chat show. In this (pre-Charlie Hebdo massacre) episode, the hosts were discussing the reaction to a celebrity posting photos of herself taken in an Abu Dhabi mosque. Cenk Uyger and Ana Kasparian both came down pretty hard on the Islamic response to the photos Selena Gomez posted. Cenk reported that Muslims found her levity and the display of her lower leg in holy place disrespectful. Their feeling was that the Muslims were being too hard line about it and that they should lighten up. Ana agreed and went on to recount her own experience being turned away from the Sagrada Familia in Spain for not having her shoulders covered. She noted that the requirement seemed to be more about sending business to the scarf seller across the street than about respect. She continued that she’d rather not visit a place that required more clothing than she was willing to wear, but was disappointed because she was a fan of Gaudi, the designer of the church.

Fair enough, I suppose.

As noted previously, I’m an atheist. I also have beefs with most of the organised religions of the world as long as my arm. That said, I have also visited holy places in many countries. The big ones let you know outside the rules for entering. Some ask you to leave your shoes at the door, some ask you to cover your head. Others kindly request that you not take pictures. The decorum requested is not secret and is generally included in any tour guide for for the region you are visiting.

At 28, Kasparian is young, but old enough to respect the rules of another person’s house without denigrating the person, the rules, or the house. According to her Wikipedia entry, she holds a bachelor’s in journalism and an MA in political science. Surely somewhere in all that education something like this must have come up, atheist or not.

Those with political axes to grind on all sides point to the disrespect shown by members of the other side. During the Bush years, I recall a photo of Dick Cheney at a service commemorating the liberation of Auschwitz in a green parka, surrounded by folks in black. We had a field day with that, as (IIRC) it wasn’t long after the hunting incident in which he accidentally shot a buddy in the face. To wear what was basically hunting gear was seen as massively disrespectful. (I err: The hunting incident was in 2006, the other was in 2005.)

In a similar vein, we on the left had words for World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz when he, very respectfully, removed his shoes before entering a Turkish mosque and displayed the large holes in his socks. Interesting clothing for a man earning almost 400 grand US. At the time, I felt he also didn’t do his heritage any favours by so obviously living up to the caricature of a miserly Jewish banker.

How you dress and how you behave as a representative of your culture, your country, and yourself says a great deal. Gomez didn’t necessarily ask to be a role model, but having been in the public eye since she was 15, I think she has. It’s not much to ask, perhaps, that she show the same respect in a foreign house of worship that she would in her own. And that our journalists demand the same.