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Women on the bottom

Not quite two weeks ago, on Saturday, Nov. 17, the president's wife delivered what was said to be the first weekly presidential radio address ever delivered in full by a first lady. Laura Bush talked about how terribly women have been treated by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which is true. The Taliban aren't exactly the kind of folks you'd want to invite over for dinner, especially if there are any females in the house who possess that unforgivable Western trait of speaking their mind.

But here's the thing (and I confess I'm not the first pundit to pick up on this): How is it that Ms. Bush is just now being given clearance to speak her mind — independently of course — about how bad she feels that these women have been so terribly mistreated? What is it with the timing on this thing? And why is it that she only sees the women who are being oppressed in Afghanistan by the Taliban, and not the large number of women who are being equally oppressed by the Northern Alliance? Some reports estimate that the Northern Alliance, who for the moment is a friend of Uncle Sam, is actually responsible for more documented acts of abuse toward women than the Taliban.

And what about those women in some parts of Egypt who still must subject themselves to the extremely painful ritual of female circumcision, which is designed to prevent women from deriving any pleasure from sex so that they won't stray from their husbands and be promiscuous? If the man runs around, that's just fine.

When I visited Egypt a little more than 10 years ago, I met some of these women and visited some of the communities where this stuff goes on. Our Muslim tour guide, however, was a thoroughly modern Egyptian woman who had been a runner-up in the Miss Egypt pageant, wore pants and makeup, was drop-dead gorgeous, extremely well-educated and even knew how to read hieroglyphics. She had no problem speaking her mind on a variety of subjects, and female circumcision was one of them. Her presence made some of the Egyptian men quite uncomfortable, and I often wonder how she's doing now that the Muslim fundamentalists are considerably more high-profile and active than when I visited.

And what about women in China? Not long ago I read an article detailing how it isn't uncommon in some parts of rural China for female babies to be abandoned or even murdered, right along with crippled children, because the family wants and needs a healthy male child.

How about women in India? Last I heard, wife-burning was still accepted over there. Although the practice has recently come under considerably more scrutiny and has earned a measurable amount of unfavorable worldwide media attention, the men who persist in setting their wives on fire still don't face any criminal charges or penalties because they are essentially considered to be within their rights as men.

For that matter, what about women right here in the United States? Granted, no one can plausibly argue that the plight of American women is in any way comparable to the plight of those women in Afghanistan, China, India, Saudi Arabia, or so many other countries where brutality against women is more or less accepted. Still, American women face a considerable amount of discrimination in the workplace and elsewhere, and domestic abuse has hardly disappeared from the scene. Just because things are better over here doesn't mean things are as they should be.

The Taliban regime "is now in retreat across much of the country, and the people of Afghanistan, especially women are rejoicing,'' said the first lady. "Afghan women know, through hard experience, what the rest of the world is discovering: The brutal oppression of women is a central goal of the terrorists.''

Except that the oppression of women has nothing to do with the terrorist aspect of the Taliban regime. Oppression of women is a cultural disease, not a political philosophy or objective, and the difference between the two is pretty important.

Ms. Bush and the State Department later went on to emphasize that her address wasn't intended to take a swipe at all Muslims, only the Evildoer Muslims.

"Islam is a religion that respects women and humanity,'' according to a State Department report.

In other words, the first lady only wants to offend the Muslim nations that aren't on our side in this war. As for the Muslim nations where women are routinely denied the right to vote, not allowed to drive, raped, forced to wear veils, etc., well, carry on. So long as you're a friend of Uncle Sam, your sins are washed clean in the sea of forgetfulness. But find yourself on the wrong side, and you'll be amazed at what Sam's memory drags up.

If oppression is wrong, then it's wrong for everyone. If you're going to speak out against oppression, then make sure to speak out against oppression wherever it happens to be, not merely where it conveniently fits into a political view designed to convince Americans even more of just how bad these Taliban folks are and why it's great that we're dropping bombs on them. Politically motivated sympathy isn't sympathy at all.

And now for something completely different: Last week a 9-year-old kid convinced the board of trustees in Bloomfield Township to repeal the township's ban on "frozen confection vendors." You know, ice cream trucks. After collecting 165 signatures on his petition and going at it for five months, Josh Lipshaw finally got his wish.

When he appeared before the trustees at their Oct. 1 meeting, Josh said, "This is an old law, so I think you should look at it again. I bet many of you enjoyed ice cream trucks when you were kids.''

On Nov. 19, after his victory, he said "I want to thank the township board for listening to a 9-year-old and his friends,'' Josh told the board after the vote, which drew applause from more than 20 children in the audience. "You took us seriously and not everybody would do that.''

Mark my words, the crystal ball sees this kid in politics. And you thought Kwame Kilpatrick was young? Keith A. Owens is a Detroit-area writer and musician. E-mail

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