President Bush seemed at a loss for words this week when he was asked during a press conference if he would use his influence to help a Saudi rape victim who has drawn international attention. The young woman was raped 14 times by seven men and now faces her own imprisonment and 200 lashes in a sentence imposed by a Saudi court.
So what was the victim's "crime"? She happened to be in the company of a man who was not a close relative when she was attacked.
The president hemmed and hawed: "My first thoughts were these: What happens if this happened to my daughter? How would I react? And I would have been -- I would have been -- I'd have been very emotional, of course. I'd have been angry at those who committed the crime, and I'd be angry at a state that didn't support the victim."
When the reporter pressed him on whether he had raised the issue with Saudi King Abdullah in the last few weeks, the president demurred. "We'll have plenty of time. [King Abdullah] knows our position loud and clear."
No, Mr. President, he doesn't. The Saudi Royals don't know what we think because we spend so much effort pretending that their country is a member of the family of nations like all others and that they are our allies in the fight against terrorism. No wonder they think they can violate the most basic human rights of their population with impunity, especially their women, so long as they are willing to sell us their bloody oil at whatever price they can extort.
You cannot respect a man you must lie to. The president would do the Saudi king, not to mention the Saudi people, a favor if he spoke honestly.
He should say to King Abdullah, "You cannot behave like barbarians and be treated like civilized people. A woman who has been viciously raped by common criminals should not be violated again by your courts. You appoint the Supreme Judicial Council. Now the Council is punishing the victim's attorney for making her case public, threatening to disbar him. You know this is wrong. If you want my respect, then you must earn it."
Until the Saudis come face to face with the opprobrium they richly deserve, they will continue to flout common decency. The Saudis spend millions each year paying for slick ads in U.S. newspapers to convince Americans that the Kingdom is a modern wonderland: beautiful, culturally rich and varied, a welcoming paradise to all who live and work there.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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