Hughes, a longtime confidant of President Bush tasked with burnishing the U.S. image overseas, has generally met with polite audiences -- many of whom received U.S. funding or consisted of former exchange students -- during a tour of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey this week.
In this case the U.S. Embassy asked Kader, an umbrella group that supports woman candidates, to assemble the guest list. None of the activists currently receive U.S. funds and the guests apparently had little desire to mince words. Six of the eight women who spoke at the session, held in Ankara, the capital, focused on the Iraq war.
"War makes the rights of women completely erased and poverty comes after war -- and women pay the price," said Fatma Nevin Vargun, a Kurdish women's rights activist.
Now, I only visited Turkey once for a few days, bouncing between countries to renew a tourist visa, but after spending a good deal of time living in a small Palestinian town in Israel, I was particularly struck by the relatively Westernized style of dress and the prominent secularism of the culture. I felt much more in common with the casual approach to religion taken by Turkish Muslism, who seemed to make public displays of faith a matter of personal preference rather than socially mandated compliance. I stress again that this was a snapshot impression of Istanbul, the cosmopolitan center of the nation.
That notwithstanding, I was struck again by how aware the educated classes of the world are of American affairs when I read the next line:
Vargun denounced the arrest of Cindy Sheehan, the activist mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, in front of the White House Monday at an antiwar protest.
And how did Karen respond? Oh, this is when we're snapped back into Bushworld, where American critics are denounced as traitors and the brown people are oh-so in need of our help, the poor dearies:
Hughes, looking increasingly pained, defended the decision to invade Iraq as a difficult and wrenching moment for President Bush, but necessary to protect America.
"You're concerned about war, and no one likes war," she said. But, she said, "to preserve the peace sometimes my country believes war is necessary." She also asserted that women are faring much better in Iraq than under the rule of deposed president Saddam Hussein.
I'll let the audience's reaction stand without comment:
Tuksal said she was "feeling myself wounded, feeling myself insulted here" by Hughes' response.
Let me note before closing that the article does note the complications for Turkey created by Kurdish unrest, and I'm sure there're people out there who can shed more light on the particulars of that conflict that undoubtedly colors these women's reactions to Karen. But what I'd really like to hear from you is any insight as to the position of women in Turkey in general, especially outside the big city.
My surface-scratch take on this is that Karen got a bitch-slap from a group of highly independent, educated women who cut through her like a hot knife to butter. The fact that Karen was apparently so unprepared to answer real criticism only highlights the bubble that these folks live in on our side of the pond.