In what the White House touted as a first for a first lady, Mrs. Bush took over President Bush's weekly radio address as a part of a renewed effort by the administration to step up its war of words. "The fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women," Mrs. Bush said, offering a chilling glimpse into what she said "the terrorists would like to impose on the rest of us."
Not only do the "terrorists and the Taliban forbid education to women," Mrs. Bush said, they also "threaten to pull out women's fingernails for wearing nail polish." "The plight of women and children in Afghanistan is a matter of deliberate human cruelty, carried out by those who seek to intimidate and control," she said. Accompanying Mrs. Bush's four-minute radio address was a blistering State Department report, detailing a "systematic repression" of Afghans, particularly women, by the Taliban since they took control of the capital Kabul in 1996.
The regime has curtailed education of women to nearly nothing, forced them from their jobs, denied them health care, and severely restricted their movements, the report said. In short, it concluded, "The Taliban has stripped a society in desperate need of trained professionals of half its assets."
Throughout much of the Muslim world, women are doctors, teachers, business leaders, and diplomats, the State Department said, also noting that the president of Indonesia and the prime minister of Bangladesh are women.
There are differences, though, not highlighted by the report. For instance, in Saudi Arabia, long a U.S. ally, women are well educated but still excluded from some professions and restricted in their travel.
"All of us have an obligation to speak out," Mrs. Bush said. "Fighting brutality against women and children is not the expression of a specific culture; it is the acceptance of our common humanity, a commitment shared by people of good will on every continent."
Mrs. Bush's radio address was coordinated by the Coalition Information Center, a new effort by the United States and Britain to counter the pronouncements of Saudi exile Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants in the al-Qaida terrorist network, and to better explain the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. The center is just beginning to staff satellite offices in London and Islamabad, Pakistan, and Mrs. Bush's broadside came as the Taliban are retreating.
Nonetheless, the center's director, Jim Wilkinson, said, "The timing couldn't be more appropriate because the post-Taliban Afghanistan is being planned by the Afghan people, and women deserve basic human rights." In addition to Mrs. Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair's wife, Cherie, is also taking on the Taliban, and White House counselor Karen Hughes is soliciting support from women in Congress, business, and other endeavors.
"It's awful what they have done to the women in that country," Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, said Saturday on CNN. Earlier, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., had expressed similar sentiments on CNN's "Larry King Live." "They have been put upon and shoved and pushed and rooted out of any legitimate role in that society," she said, "and it is a huge human tragedy."
On Monday, the president, who is spending the weekend at his Central Texas ranch, plans a Cabinet meeting at the White House to discuss allied humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, as the administration begins to fine-tune its message for Thanksgiving. "After the events of the last few months, we'll be holding our families even closer. And we will be especially thankful for all the blessings of American life," Mrs. Bush said at the end of her radio address. "I hope Americans will join our family in working to ensure that dignity and opportunity will be secured for all the women and children of Afghanistan."