“In the U.S., if there's a terrible report, people don't riot and kill other people. And you can't excuse what they did because of the mistake -- you know, you can't blame it all on Newsweek.”
-- Laura Bush at the start of her trip to prop up the world's sagging opinion of America
We all know the Newsweek story was not a rumor. The Koran was dunked in a toilet by American soldiers as an act of psychological torture against their poor captives. Captives, we might remind Laura, since rights are supposedly the point of her journey, held in cages with no legal rights and against the Geneva Accords.
"Freedom, especially freedom for women, is more than the absence of oppression. It's the right to speak and vote and worship freely," Laura told business and political leaders. Women's rights she said had made "extraordinary progress" in the Middle East since the Taliban was suppressed. I doubt Laura was referring to uniformed American women photographed torturing Iraqi prisoners and having group sex with other Americans. They certainly set an interesting example of American women exercising freedom.
When you consider even a small part of the history Laura ignores, you'd have to say the Muslim world's reaction to a nasty story was relatively calm by American standards.
How many hundreds of black Americans were lynched owing to rumor? A lot of them in Laura's Texas, right into the 1930s. There were sensational cases in the 1920s -- the most famous being in Laura's neighboring state of Oklahoma, another in her brother-in-law Jeb Bush's state of Florida -- where an entire community of innocent black people was massacred and buried in mass graves after the mere rumor of a white woman's rape.
It was as late as the 1950s that thousands of innocent Americans were persecuted, effectively stripped of many rights, and dismissed from their work on the basis of nothing but rumors of being Communists.
A mere rumor near the turn of the last century caused the United States to invade Cuba under the slogan, "Remember the Maine!" The Maine was an American warship which exploded in Havana harbor. Americans immediately assumed, and were encouraged to believe, that the ship had been attacked. Today we know almost to a certainty that the Maine blew up because of a faulty steam boiler system.
What about the invasion of Iraq? Just the rumor of non-existent weapons was enough to launch an invasion that slaughtered a 100,000 civilians and cost tens of billions of dollars. Laura's dear hubby led the political baboons grunting that it must be so.
The Hate Wing of American Fundamentalist Preachers -- presumably all welcome guests in Laura's White House -- enthusiastically promoted war following 9/11. The act of a few individuals were used to fire hatred against a billion people. Now, I'd call that reasonable and fair, wouldn't you?
Today America shelters a known terrorist by the name of Luis Posada Carriles. This man blew up an airliner full of people in 1976. He worked at one time for the CIA in its ugly campaign of murder against Castro during the 1960s. God knows what other acts of terror he committed. Would he be welcome at Laura's White House?
London's Daily Telegraph, at the start of Laura's mini-crusade, called her the President's secret weapon, but I believe appreciation of her charms is limited to a stretch of odd country known as Middle America, the place where women are generally still expected to wear aprons and bake cookies. While there are no laws against women expressing independent views in America, look what happens when a prominent woman actually does so. Hillary Clinton is vilified, literally spewed with hatred and abuse, for daring to be independent and express her intelligence. The never-ending campaign against her is almost pathological.
Pretty much the same treatment was received by John Kerry's foreign-born, outspoken wife when she was briefly in the spotlight during the last presidential campaign.
For any less famous woman with independent views, the odds are small anyone in the United States will publish or broadcast them and even smaller anyone with influence will listen to them. Anyway, the airwaves of America are such a cataract of subsidized right-wing hate that any little broadcast by a truly independent woman, or man, simply is lost in the ear-splitting roar.
Laura in attacking women's rights in the Third World picks an extremely safe target, but what is she really doing with the timing and subject of her trip? Providing a cheap propaganda counterpoint to abusing prisoners and throwing the holy book of a billion people in the toilet.
Despite the sparkle in Laura's eyes, the sheer abundance of what she doesn't know, and her often foolish words reveal perceptions and attitudes almost as limited as those of her mother-in-law, who said in public not long ago,
"Why should we hear about body bags and deaths…? It's not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?"
-- Barbara Bush
John Chuckman lives in Canada and is former chief economist for a large Canadian oil company. Copyright (C) 2005 by John Chuckman.
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