Here Hughes was, addressing some of the world's leading repressors -- representatives of countries where there is little to no freedom of conscience, little to no religious freedom, and little to no sexual equality -- running down the United States for "failing to live up to our founding convictions." Aiming low, she achieved a kind of immoral equivalence with the unfree.
What's notable about Hughes' talk, which included vignettes about individuals who have tried to advance freedom in the Muslim world, is that she used their example to prove, as with Rosa Parks, that "one person of courage and conscience can make (a difference)." But they haven't. Where Rosa Parks succeeded symbolically because the nation institutionally was changing, these individuals spark and fail to ignite -- as Rosa Parks would have surely failed in, say, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Tiananmen Square, downtown Tehran or Riyadh.
Hughes' exemplars of courage -- from Mukhtar Mai, an outspoken gang-rape ("honor crime") victim recently barred from appearing at the United Nations due to Pakistani government pressure; to Akbar Ganji, a dissident journalist who, after five years, still languishes near death in an Iranian jail -- haven't changed nations or started mass movements. This is largely because of a doctrinal predisposition against freedom and equality that exists in Islamic societies, "democratic" or not. Even Roula al-Dashti, whom Hughes applauds for shepherding women's suffrage through the Kuwaiti legislature, has seen her victory narrowed by legislation requiring women in politics to abide by Islamic law (sharia).
Such systemic obstacles highlight differences between the West and Islam -- differences Hughes seems unable to appreciate. It's really not enough to imagine a Rosa Parks boarding a bus for freedom in downtown Lahore or Cairo and getting anywhere but jail. There are important reasons the Magna Carta and individual rights developed in the West -- Great Britain, actually -- and not the Islamic East. Which goes back to why Bush's original question is so disturbing: Doesn't he know the difference?
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