Lou Dubose, alternet.org
Image from, with caption: Karen Hughes blows kisses to Turkish students in Education Park during her Sept. 28  visit to the Turkish Education Volunteers Foundation in Istanbul.
In 2005 I was doing a regular Tuesday–Friday commute between Austin and Washington. One of the regulars on the flights was Karen Hughes, a longtime advisor to then-President George W. Bush. At the time, she was commuting to her State Department office, where she was the undersecretary for public diplomacy.
On one Tuesday morning flight, my traveling companion, a journalist who wrote about international oil-and-gas interests and the Middle East, took a seat beside the undersecretary and began querying her about her reading on the region.
As it turned out, she had read very little. Her seatmate recommended half a dozen familiar titles, as Hughes politely said she would “put it on my list,” though she wrote down nothing and seemed more than eager to get back to her Austin American-Statesman.
The brief conversation ended with a telling exchange.
My journo friend observed that Islamic societies were once among the most literate in the world. As the United States had a significant presence in two Muslim countries, he asked, was the State Department considering literacy programs, investing in teaching young men and women to read?
“We don’t care if they can read,” Hughes said. “We just want to make sure they don’t bomb us again.”
Her response said a lot about the administration’s policy in the region. No sense of history, no anthropology, no cultural sensitivity.
That sort of ignorance led to women in the U.S. Army humiliating nude Muslim men at the Abu Ghraib Prison; to the defiling of Korans in Guantánamo; to the use of dogs, considered unclean by Muslims, in interrogations. These were crude and widely publicized affronts that will take generations to repair, if they can be repaired. (Then there was the actual torture.) ...