Although the audiences were screened, there was quite a bit of unabashed anger concerning the war in Iraq, abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay and the perception that many Americans hate or are extraordinarily suspicious of Arabs.
Another topic of conversation was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hughes reiterated the presidents desire to create a separate Palestinian state.
Hughes may not have been the best person for this job. It may have just been due to her status as a Bush crony, but her comments demonstrated general ignorance about the Middle East.
In Saudi Arabia, Hughes assured a group of professional women of her optimism for the future, saying she hoped they would gain greater freedoms such as the right to drive. To her surprise, the women told her that they did not care if they were allowed to drive.
Hughes didnt seem to understand why this wasnt important to them. She replied that driving was an important part" of her freedom, but she supposed that their culture was different.
Hughes really ought to peruse the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, because there are many more important rights than being able to drive. I would consider driving more of a luxury, and when there are more important issues (like voting rights, due process, etc.), it seems American representatives ought to focus on less trivial matters.
The Saudi women went on to say that they resent the way the U.S. media portrays them as unhappy, downtrodden victims of oppression. They acknowledged their inability to vote and the lack of mobility for professional women, but said that they believe things are changing. Their biggest concern, they said, is violence and its effects on women and children.
In Turkey, Hughes also scrambled to find some common ground. Eventually she declared: I love all kids and I understand that [the Turkish people] love children."
Aside from such hollow observations, Hughes was hokey, blowing kisses to children in the distance and picking up any within her reach. While coddling foreign children in front of reporters may warm some Americans hearts, I doubt that mimicking Miss America contestants will obviate years of strained foreign relations.
Hughes also came bearing several copies of a book about American history. The books cover portrayed George W. Bush between George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Could we squeeze his face onto Mount Rushmore, too?
The implication that Bushs presidency is on par with one of the Founding Fathers or with the man who preserved the Union is ridiculous in itself, but such hubris also symbolizes our current foreign policy: all give, no take.
By giving I do not mean the charitable, humanitarian kind, but giving in the sense of cultural exchange and understanding. Hughes went to the Middle East with American ideology and history as presents.
Still, Hughes trip was not entirely a disaster. I will admit that understanding cultures radically different from ones own is a hard thing to do. Understanding will require both sides to be honest with themselves and to acknowledge past transgressions.
The challenge for us in future visits will be to create an atmosphere of honesty, an atmosphere which acknowledges past mistakes but does not dwell on them so much that the problems of the present go unsolved.
Staff writer Megan Sutherland is a senior from The Woodlands, Texas. She majors in English and history.