The world press on American politics

Outlook India recalls the queen's first appalled impression of George W. Bush; plus, Al-Jazeera wonders why there aren't any Muslims in Congress.

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India, Seema Sirohi in Outlook India

This White House gets what it wants — even from the Queen of England … No other U.S. president has stayed inside the royal compound, and she has met 11 of them in her time…

Clearly … her first impression of Bush [has been improved]. In 1991, Bush famously appeared wearing cowboy boots at a White House dinner given by his father for the Queen and cheerily informed her of the inscription on the heels: “God save the Queen.” A frosty frown appeared on the royal brow, an eon passed, many feet shuffled all around. Convinced that understatement or sarcasm would be lost on the man standing before her, the Queen asked bluntly: “Are you the black sheep of your family?” Bush replied in the affirmative and shot back: “Who’s the black sheep in your family?”…

Wonder what infuriated her more — Bush’s boorishness or the abundance of black sheep in her family.

This time the Queen … had to receive him with the highest pageantry, even as her subjects were screaming “bloody murderer” next door.

So why did he inflict himself on an unwilling people? It is not like he is an easy guest to handle. When the US president travels, 700 others travel with him as does his limo, missile bearing planes, black hawks, guns, snipers, medical units and truck loads of communication equipment. A whole city really…

But Bush’s political managers don’t care a hoot. They were in it for the photo op. They wanted the ultimate backdrop as 2004 nears — Bush and the Queen riding into the sunset proving to the American voters the incumbent knows a few foreigners, has traveled a bit, and can hold his own on the world stage. In those impending campaign ads that will surely talk about Iraq, Bush will be seen standing next to Tony Blair and supping with the Queen. She is one international figure the American public can recognize and she has cachet here.

Karl Rove, Bush’s powerful political strategist, knew that no other visit could produce the definitive clip that this one could … Ken Livingstone, the left-leaning mayor of London, had it just right when he asked the Republican National Committee to pay for what was certainly the most extensive security curtain dropped on London for any visitor — since it is for Bush’s political benefit.

Russia, Matt Bivens in the Moscow Times

Ten years ago, George W. Bush was just the president’s smirky son, and his mother warned him sternly he was not to speak to the Queen of England when she visited. As a Washington Post article explained then, “The family never knows what he’ll say in polite society”…

Yet the Queen reportedly found Dubya charming on that occasion. Since then she has changed her mind. The Daily Telegraph reports the Queen was “apparently less than chuffed” to learn that President Bush, invited to stay with her, brought along five of his personal chefs.

Naturally.

I mean, when you wrangle an invite to stay with the Queen of England, the first thought that pops into your head is: “Hmmm … well of course the food will suck; after all it’s only Buckingham Palace.”

The British press has dubbed them the “five Yankee fajita fillers.” They were just a small part of the president’s 650-person taxpayer-funded entourage, which included hundreds of heavily armed security agents.

And about those security agents: Incredibly, the White House felt the need to ask for an advance promise that, should the president’s men decide to gun down a British citizen, they would enjoy immunity from British prosecution; such an unfortunate event would be a matter instead for the far-superior American justice system.

The Brits, and rightly so, refused.

Bush also met with families of seven of the 53 British servicemen killed in Iraq — an event Reuters billed beforehand as “one of the centerpieces of his state visit to wartime ally Britain.”

No doubt, politically, families of British KIAs were seen as safer to experiment with. After all, this is the president who has broken with historical tradition and declined to attend any of the funerals for the 400-plus Americans killed in Iraq.

United Kingdom, Andrew Rawnsley in the Guardian

Just because George W. Bush says something is so doesn’t make it axiomatically wrong. The man is right: “Freedom is a beautiful thing.” Like many things of beauty, freedom can also be very fragile. That most basic of freedoms — the freedom to go about your innocent business without being blown up — was cruelly denied to the Britons and Turks killed and maimed by the bombs that ripped through Istanbul.

If the intention was also to devastate George Bush’s state visit to Britain, it didn’t have quite that result … The atrocities suddenly and violently invested the Bush-Blair alliance with a renewed seriousness of resolve and purpose. Though the red carpet rolled out for President Bush had been strewn with potential banana-skins, the visit did not turn into the cringing embarrassment to Tony Blair that was widely predicted. The one setpiece speech delivered by the President at the Banqueting House was more subtle, fluent, multidimensional and pitched to appeal to non-Texan ears than had been generally anticipated. President Bush set out to challenge the perception of his White House as blindly unilateralist. “In this century, as the last, nations can accomplish more together than apart,” he said. Tony Blair could have written that. Perhaps he did…

Turkey is the one country in the region that has demonstrated that democracy and progress are fully compatible with being an Islamic nation. These are the reasons that Turkey was attacked. If the Bush visit to Britain made a difference, it was only to the timing…

As for those protesters who toppled that papier-maché Bush in Trafalgar Square, they were made to look naive. The bombers, if they could, would happily slaughter them too. It is a delusion to think that all that is needed to make the world safe is a change to the occupants of the White House and Number 10. Charles Kennedy could be Prime Minister and Michael Moore might be President of the United States. Al-Qaida would carry on killing. Because, to them, freedom is an ugly thing.

Canada, Alexandre Trudeau in Maclean’s

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With much apprehension, I return to Baghdad eight months after my stay in the city during the March-April war on Iraq. These days, the reports coming out of the country are not cheerful … However, upon arrival in Baghdad, the mood is not as morbid as I had expected.

Even in this martial climate, it would seem that people are getting on with their lives. Those I care most about here, Anmar and Layla A-Saadi, are taking baby steps toward a better life … They are fixing up their modest home, something most Iraqis have long been unable to do. New paint and new appliances are not the only additions to their household: Anmar has built half a dozen birdcages and has filled them with colourful canaries and doves. As usual, his garden is in bloom, and now resonates with delicate chirps.

Spending money is a sure sign of optimism, and Iraqis now have plenty of opportunity to do so…

Having endured Saddam, they are making the best of this new era, no matter how weird and precarious it might be. As I sit in a packed restaurant, explosions can be heard from the edge of town, but people continue to eat casually. So long as the violence is directed toward Americans, average Iraqis are completely indifferent to it…

One evening, I accompany Anmar and Layla to the home of some older relations. They are an elegant elderly couple; all their children are grown up and off in faraway lands. After dinner, they take out some photo albums. In the yellow hues of old pictures from the ’60s, I see young mothers in brightly coloured skirts laying out a picnic for their children in a field by a river. There are men with slick hair, looking suave and worldly at the horse races. There are parties aglow with attractive ladies and stylish men, gathered around luxuriously bedecked tables, singing and laughing in modern-looking homes. This was once Baghdad. I already had some idea of it, but seeing it like this, I am sad and shocked. “What happened?” I ask my hostess. “It is a long story,” she sighs.

On another evening … an enthusiastic young man approaches me. He says he has just recently returned to Iraq from Ottawa, and shows me a BMW he brought with him to sell here. “I ran from Iraq when I was drafted into the army in 1990. But I am so happy to be back. There is no place like Baghdad. Look at all these beautiful houses. You can’t live like this in Canada.” I question whether he might be jumping the gun a little with all his optimism — Baghdad is still on shaky ground. “Don’t worry,” he says with a smile. “We will find our way.”

Hong Kong, Spengler in Asia Times

“American tragedy” (despite Theodore Dreiser’s dreadful novel) is something of an oxymoron, for America is the land of new beginnings. Tragedy invariably takes the form of a shadow from the past darkening the present and future. But something like the River Lethe girds the American continent, through which immigrants forget their past and with it their past tragedies. One might say that the American tragedy is the incapacity of Americans to understand the tragedy of other peoples. America can cherry-pick out of the nations those individuals who wish to be Americans, but it cannot force back on the nations its own character. Its efforts to do so have perpetually destabilizing consequences for other peoples. Not idly does Osama bin Laden denounce Americans as “crusaders”.

Tragedy … trains the mind to distinguish the necessary from the merely accidental. Men do not risk everything on a throw of the dice of war unless they must. What we loosely call the great tragedies of history are just that, collisions which men no more could forestall than the shift in the earth’s tectonic plates…

What distinguishes tragedy from comedy is the element of necessity, not a sad or happy ending…If a piano falls out of a 20th-floor window and lands on Daffy Duck, we laugh. If a piano falls out of a 20th-floor window and crushes a loved one, we do not laugh, but neither is it a tragedy. September 11, 2001 was a tragic event. So was America’s invasion of Iraq. It is Bush’s tragedy to be the protagonist in the tragedy, rather than the playwright.

Qatar, Benjamin Duncan in Al-Jazeera

Dearborn, Michigan, a blue-collar, industrial suburb of Detroit, perhaps best known for being the home of the Ford Motor Company, is often referred to as the unofficial Arab capital of America.

The town boasts one of the largest populations of Arab Americans of any city in the country, the majority of them Muslims.

Yet, Dearborn has never elected a Muslim representative to the U.S. Congress. In fact, it has never even fielded a Muslim candidate — and it is not alone.

In the history of the United States, no Muslim American has ever been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives or the Senate, according to officials from several of the largest Muslim civic associations in the country…

Muslim American leaders cite the lack of political organization and a limited understanding of the democratic system among immigrants as the main reasons for the absence of representation at the highest level…

Abed Hammoud was running for Mayor of Dearborn … 9/11 was not the only reason he lost the election, but it certainly did not help, he said…

The attacks sparked an estimated 85% drop in the number of Muslims running for political office, a decrease from about 700 candidates in 2000 to roughly 100 in 2002, according to the American Muslim Alliance.

There is reason, however, to be optimistic about the future, he continued.

Muslims already hold a wide variety of state and local offices, from city council seats to the state legislature. Building up a solid base at the grassroots level is an important first step on the road to a more inclusive political status.

“I think Muslims are going in that direction aggressively,” Awad said. “There’s more interest in running for political office, because people understand that a lack of representation affects us negatively in terms of policy.”

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