In stoking the paranoid hysteria over the Cordoba Initiative, right-wing opponents to the proposed Islamic center are cleaving to the sensitivity talking point: while Muslims have the right to build an Islamic center, they would be offending Americans if they did.
Yesterday, another Republican voice joined the chorus calling for relocation. President Bush’s Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes penned an op-ed in the Washington Post asserting that the Islamic center is “contentious because it goes to the heart of who is to blame for the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.” Hughes, who promoted the center’s sponsor Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf as an ambassador of Islamic faith in America under the Bush Administration, claims his current project would be a “searing reminder of terrible deaths at the hands of murderers calling themselves Muslims” and ultimately allow terrorists to “celebrate its presence as a twisted victory over our society’s freedoms.”
But, during her tenure with the Bush administration, Hughes cited American commitment to “our society’s freedoms” as a key difference between American and Saudi Arabian society. During a week-long Middle East tour “to improve the image of the United States” in 2005, Hughes spoke to several hundred Saudi women about the non-discriminatory right of driving in America. Saudi Arabia’s ban on female drivers is “one of the more controversial” issues in Saudi Arabia that “many high ranking officials maintain” is “a societal issue.” In fact, paralleling the increasingly vitriolic debate over the center here at home, the idea of Saudi women drivers spurred Saudi conservatives and religious scholars to argue that “that giving women the right to drive will lead to a ‘Western-style’ erosion of morality and a loss of traditional values.”
Going “significantly further” than then-Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice on the subject, Hughes told the audience in ’05 that its society’s unwillingness to allow women to drive flouted an important “symbol” of the freedoms Americans take “very seriously”:
“We in America take our freedoms very seriously,” Hughes said. “I believe women should be free and equal participants in society. I feel that as an American woman that my ability to drive is an important part of my freedom.”
Women in the audience applauded after she also mentioned that they should have a greater voice in the Saudi political system, including eventually receiving the right to vote.[...]
Asked about the contrast between her comments and Rice’s, Hughes said her remarks were part of a U.S. policy of “slowly advancing ideas” with the Saudis. “My job is to raise issues in, I hope, a respectful way, to help other countries understand concerns Americans have,” she said.[...]
“It is important for them to understand that for many American women, driving is a symbol. We can’t imagine not being able to drive ourselves to work,” she told reporters traveling with her.
Hughes went further in warning against American backlash against Muslims while speaking at the Islamic Society of North America convention in 2005. Seeing that her role was to “respond to civil liberty concerns within the United States from Muslims whose lives and travel have been disrupted,” Hughes urged “people of all faiths to speak out against the ‘backlash and widespread demonization of Islam and Muslims’ that followed the 9/11 attacks.” “It is important that we be mindful of speaking out against all voices of hate and incitement including those raised against Muslims themselves,” she said. “We want to be a welcoming country.”
Hughes’ current position hardly reflects the tone she projected in 2005. It is wrong to believe that we honor the 9/11 victims by rejecting the values they cherished while succumbing to the very fear and hatred their murderers were trying to provoke.