Jewish World Review Sept. 18, 2002 / 12 Tishrei, 5763
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | It's about time.
Almost 17 years too late but progress moves like the thickest molasses down government hallways. At least Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., hasn't allowed his feet to get stuck in the goo over Americans held hostage by our friend and ally Saudi Arabia.
I refer to people like Pat Roush, whose daughters were stolen by their Saudi Arabian father in defiance of American laws in 1986 and held there ever since -- a situation to which several of you responded in disgust that we would turn our back on Americans.
Which is why Burton deserves kudos for sticking to his commitment to work for Americans' release from our medieval friend and ally. As regular readers know, I seldom find cause to praise lawmakers, whom I find most useful when they're least active.
But Burton held June hearings on Americans held in the kingdom and recently arranged a delegation to go there to discuss our kidnapped citizens, including the Roush sisters, taken when they were 7 and 3. Then Bill O'Reilly got involved.
O'Reilly -- of Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor," where most invited guests aren't allowed to finish their answers, what with TV's time constraints and the host's mile-a-minute mouth -- decided that he could get done what no else had.
As he describes in a Sept. 5 column, he saw Roush's suffering and "mobilized my staff to find out the truth behind this troubling story. ... We put enormous pressure on the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, pounding them for being human-rights violators. ... Finally, the pressure paid off, and Saudi foreign-affairs advisor Adel al-Jabair agreed to produce the women."
Good thing O'Reilly nailed Saudi Arabia on that human-rights thing. They have been known to treat people, well, harshly, so cheers to O'Reilly for "pounding" that one home and arranging a visit with the sisters -- against their mother's wishes.
Here's the short story, as described by Roush on WorldNetDaily and The Wall Street Journal's William McGurn. After Burton's hearings in June, Jubair offered to make Alia and Aisha available at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, but only if a statement were taken regarding where they want to live. Roush discouraged this staged arrangement, and eventually Burton told the Saudis that the sisters should be allowed to visit America and see Roush, who has seen her girls only once in 17 years.
Then Jubair appeared on "Factor" on Aug. 9, at which point O'Reilly offered to interview the women on television. I saw that one. He was in full crusade mode.
But Roush told O'Reilly not to follow through, because it would be counterproductive. O'Reilly said he'd think about it. Roush never heard back.
O'Reilly soldiered on, suggesting to Burton that his delegation meet with the Roush sisters inside Saudi Arabia before a Fox camera. Burton declined, also saying it would be counterproductive. O'Reilly didn't care. As Burton's delegation was traveling to Riyadh, O'Reilly arranged to meet with Alia and Aisha in London. The sisters were taken there under male Saudi supervision, including their father and government officials, as well the American public relations firm hired by the kingdom to polish their image, to meet with a Fox producer, among others.
Cameras were not allowed.
The American delegation was quite surprised to discover Alia and Aisha gone, whisked out without informing Burton's group or Roush. O'Reilly admits he knew the Saudis wouldn't agree to any meeting involving the sisters' mother.
And guess what the sisters said when asked about their mother and America? They denounced both. Imagine! Young women taken as children -- Aisha no longer speaks English -- swaddled in the suffocating abaya, denied their mother, converted to Islam, controlled by their paranoid schizophrenic father who beat their mother, subjected to the savage treatment afforded all women stuck in that desert and disallowed any decision making for nearly two decades -- and they said they didn't want to go to America while their captors looked on. Really?
Our sly friend and ally recognized an opportunity and seized it to manipulate O'Reilly's ego and disrupt Burton's delegation.
Which, naturally, O'Reilly won't admit. He thinks getting the sisters out of Saudi Arabia for the first time since their kidnapping is progress. And because the women didn't denounce Osama bin Laden with their Saudi handlers present, O'Reilly thinks that Alia and Aisha are "brainwashed."
As O'Reilly told the Journal's McGurn during a heated exchange -- in which the host called his guest a "liar" for correctly saying that O'Reilly colluded with the Saudis in removing the sisters -- "I said if you want freedom, you have to fight for it."
That's rich coming from a man living in a free country that permits any speech, unlike the Saudis, who jail people or worse for criticizing Islam or the royal family. Who condone sexual and physical abuse of women and children. Who forbid women to drive, go anywhere unaccompanied or leave the country without male permission. Who give men absolute control over women.
Alia and Aisha -- and other Americans kidnapped as children -- don't understand freedom, because they haven't lived it. To suggest they know how to "fight" is absurd, naive and astonishingly arrogant -- O'Reilly's repeated references to himself as "humble" aside. It'd be laughable if it weren't so serious.
Commentators have a responsibility to keep their influence in perspective. O'Reilly ceased being effective when his ego became larger than his voice.
Pat Roush and her daughters have been shamefully forsaken by their government. Repeatedly. We allow our corrupt friend and ally to do as they please with our citizens as State Department cowards look on. Burton is finally making slow progress, securing Prince Saud's promise that American women who want to leave can, and getting our ambassador in Riyadh to commit that Americans seeking refuge won't be turned away.
That O'Reilly could have disrupted this delicate and long overdue work is disgraceful. He needs to work on a No Ego Zone.
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