Now I'm ready to feel your hands
Lose my heart on the burning sand
Now I want to be your dog
--I Wanna Be Your Dog,
My baby makes me proud
Lord, don't she make me proud
She never makes a scene
By hanging all over me in a crowd
--Behind Closed Doors,
Anyone knows an ant, can't
Move a rubber tree plant
Did anyone else hear Diane Rehm's recent NPR broadcast with the "First Lady of Afghanistan," Rula Ghani? What an amazing bit of piffle and administration propaganda.
The NPR website even misrepresents the role Ms. Ghani herself said she plays (or rather, doesn't): "She is running an office in the presidential palace and is working to shape the troubled country’s future." Well, no, not actually.
Mrs. Ghani was not going to have modernity thrust upon her in the public sphere ("na ga da", as George Bush père might've said.) It just wouldn't have done for her to be seen as anything approaching an equal to her husband.
Mrs. Ghani has the honor of having perhaps the second shortest Wikipedia page. ("First Lady of Afghanistan" returns the only shorter entry.) But it does confirm that she earned her master's degree from the American University of Beirut (where she met her husband), and another master's from New York's Columbia University. Her education, the fact that she is Lebanese and holds dual Lebanese-American citizenship are not bragging points for her.
It all suggests that her husband, Mr. Ghani, is a happy State-installee whose days on his country's throne are numbered. But she did yeoman's duty playing everything down in her interview. Her journalism masters served her well, and Diane was no match.
Ms. Rehm broadcasts from inside the beltway, and while not a terrible incisive interviewer, she is reliably non-threatening and toes the administration's line. Perhaps Mrs. Rehm secured the interview because she was born to Syrian parents, and someone thought the two might have have had some common ground.
But Mrs. Ghani made it clear she was not a sistuh to Diane, and rarely has Ms. Rehm been a more obvious shill for the State Department. Mrs. Ghani held her corner.
When Rehm pressed her about her activities, Ghani said she spent the first two years of her husband's regime ensconced in the official palace watching videos and reading books. She said she got bored, and found a "little room" for herself where she would entertain a nominal number of groups each week.
Ghani emphasized she met with no one personally -- one-on-one, preserving her deferential role as a women in her society not accorded such privileges lest she be accused of impropriety. She also said she accomplished little, emphasizing what a slow "process" everything was. "Nothing here is going to change fast," she said, basically.
Mrs. Ghani understands the need for her to retain her self-subjugation, even if this is a construction to allow for her husband's continuance in his leadership position. She was not going to be bullied by Rehm into some sort of dominance or parity which her country and her life will not allow her to assume. Life in a palace is pretty plush -- not something to be trifled with or risk losing foolishly.
And if Mrs. Ghani is afraid to be seen as little more than her husband's mirror, how much less is the average Afgani woman allowed?
Undeterred, Rehm would loudly describe Ghani as the "First Lady" at every program break, and her guest's unease was palpable by her exasperated laugh. "Please, Diane, I am the President's wife. I take no role in politics."
"I have a little room. I never see visitors individually; always and only groups." I am kindly permitted this diversion. I am lower than a flea on a camel's knee -- do you understand?
As Mrs. Ghani was trying to make herself very small, like Alice in Wonderland, Rehm attempted to impose a stature Ghani would not claim. She asked her to confirm that the Afghan President -- her husband -- did in fact recognize her as his wife in his acceptance speech. She allowed that he did, and that it was a nice gesture. But you could tell she wanted to interject: "But he also has a nice stable of Arabian horses, too, and Mercedes and Audis."
When pressed by Rehm to name anything she might be proud of, Ghani spoke of some school textbook publishing issue, a matter of some teachers explaining that the textbook publishers were not always issuing correctly translated texts and that she was working on the issue, though emphasizing she would not be directly responsible for any implementation of new policy. Hardly a matter of pressing social import even if Ghani were to have assumed some praise for it.
Diane Ream imposed a faulty representation of Afghan's "First Lady", which sounds like it holds as much sway as being "first donkey". Rehm's agenda was to promote Mrs. Ghani as a harbinger of women's right in Afghanistan, but the truth lies a good piece away.
Such is the news from inside the Beltway.