September 28, 2005

Flat Head Tastes Flat Bread




The visuals are just too good to believe — as expose, I mean.

Karen Hughes, self-described "Mom," supposed PR expert, Bush hand-holder and now US Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, is just wrapping up her first trip abroad, having visited Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey.  Adding to the growing list of Administration officials who are fundamentally unqualified for their appointed positions, Hughes’ highly scripted trip turned out to be a disaster to everyone, it seems, except her.

Apparently, a main point of the trip was to show solldarity with Islamic women.  In the two most prominent meetings, however (one in Saudi Arabia and the other in Turkey), Mrs. Hughes was not just taken to task for American policy toward the Middle East (which she completely expected), but was repeatedly lectured for her fundamental ignorance of Islam, and the values Islamic women hold relative to those of women in the West.  This outcome, by the way, was reported as taking her completely by surprise.

Here is a portion of the NYT article, Saudi Women Have Message for U.S. Envoy (link):

In June, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice talked of democracy
and freedom in the Middle East but declined to address the question of
driving. By contrast, Ms. Hughes spoke personally, saying that driving
a car was "an important part of my freedom."

Several women said later that Americans failed to understand that their traditional society was embraced by men and women alike.

"There is more male chauvinism in my profession in Europe and
America than in my country," said Dr. Siddiqa Kamal, an obstetrician
and gynecologist who runs her own hospital.

"I don’t want to drive a car," she said. "I worked hard for my medical degree. Why do I need a driver’s license?"

"Women have more than equal rights," added her daughter, Dr. Fouzia
Pasha, also an obstetrician and gynecologist, asserting that men have
obligations accompanying their rights, and that women can go to court
to hold them accountable.

As you know, the BAG’s emphasis is on the politics as seen through the
image. However, what was most curious about this trip were the images not
circulated. As of early this morning, for example, YahooNews did not
have one photo of either of the two meetings I referred to. In fact,
there are only a few pictures at all showing Hughes with any Arab women
over the age of 11. Of course, the omission is especially noteworthy
considering Hughes took along a media brigade, including her
Egyptian-born deputy, a spokesperson, four U.S. TV networks, four
newspapers and a crew from Al Arabiya.

But really, why should we even pretend to take this seriously.  Why not just appreciate the hubris and marvel at the hegemony.

Regarding the first image, can you really argue with the
inclusion of Bush on that cover? (By hook or by crook, after all, he is
the current
placeholder.) At the same time, though, don’t you just love the company
he’s keeping? Also, considering the finger work, doesn’t it seem like
Hughes can pitch her boy even when she’s not looking?

Regarding the middle shot, how Hughes got herself framed
looking like a stooge in the shadow of Murbarak is beyond me. Given the
Administration’s (at least token) nod to Egyptian dissidents —
especially women’s groups that have recently, and quite noticeably,
been victimized by the Egyptian government — why could the otherwise
photo-driven Hughes stand for this to get around?

Finally, how heavy handed is this image?  I’d rather be breaking bread with the locals, rather than all-too-obviously looking like I was eating up the symbolism.

(REVISED:  9.29.05 10:53 am PST)

(image 1: Osman
Orsal/AP. Sept. 28, 2005. Istanbul, Turkey. YahooNews. image 2: Amr
Nabil/AP. Sept. 26, 2005. Cairo, Egypt. YahooNews. image 3: Amr
Nabil/AP. Sept. 25, 2005. Cairo, Egypt. YahooNews.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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