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Western Press Review: Women's Rights, European-U.S. Relations, And Other Topics

Prague, 19 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today covers a variety of issues ranging from women's rights and religious freedom to European-U.S. relations and Austria's far-right politician Joerg Haider.


"The New York Times" editorializes on Turkey's liberalizing of its laws on women, part of its effort to be admitted to the European Union. "As a result of a change in the law this spring, school officials in Turkey are no longer authorized to test girls for virginity. In recent years, Turkey has also overturned the legal supremacy of men in marriage and allowed women threatened with violence to get orders of protection. These vital moves represent welcome progress, but the very need for them illustrates how far Turkey still has to go to protect the rights of women and girls."


Britain's "The Guardian" says in an editorial that the authorities there should bar a visit from Joerg Haider, whom the newspaper refers to as "the notorious far-right Austrian politician," from making a planned visit to the United Kingdom. "Mr. Haider apparently hopes to promote business and tourism in concert with Ryanair, the low-cost airline that is starting a regular service between Stansted and his provincial seat of Klagenfurt."

The editorial adds: "Preparations for [Haider's] press conference, entitled 'Peace and prosperity,' include the slogan: 'Carinthia: where economic growth and prosperity go hand in hand' -- conjuring an image of lederhosen-clad, long-socked entrepreneurs skipping, Julie Andrews-style, through flowery alpine meadows. But in his capacity as a Hitler apologist, Waffen SS admirer, and insidious anti-Semite, Mr. Haider will not be surprised by the Anti-Nazi League demonstration to be held outside his conference venue."


In a commentary in the "International Herald-Tribune," Jean-Paul Bechat and Felix Rohatyn describe a commission they have founded on United States-Europe cooperation. Bechat is chairman and chief executive of the French aviation company Snecma. Rohatyn is former U.S. ambassador to France. "Growing differences between U.S. and European policies and capabilities could have serious consequences for future relations. To reverse this trend, we have established a Commission on Trans-Atlantic Security and Industrial Cooperation, with participation from across the policy and industrial spectrum."

The authors continue: "Economic intimacy, political commonalities, and security ties between America and Europe create mutual dependencies that need to be nurtured. Indeed, the tragic events of 11 September, as well as their dangerous aftermath of complex military campaigns and political crises, confirm that we need to act. We no longer possess the luxury of time between the recognition of a security problem and the launching of an appropriate response. In short, a true trans-Atlantic partnership is urgently needed."

They conclude: "With NATO and the European Union as the two critical institutions of its core, the trans-Atlantic relationship defines a widening community of interests that rests on levels of economic interaction and on degrees of political and security cooperation that are more important than ever."


"The Washington Post" writes approvingly in an editorial of a U.S. Supreme Court decision this week protecting the right of the Jehovah's Witnesses religious group to canvass neighborhoods seeking converts. "The decision, from which only Chief Justice William Rehnquist dissented, is remarkable because the specific requirements of [an Ohio's town's challenged ordinance] were not particularly onerous. The mayor had no discretion to reject an applicant for a permit. As a practical matter, would-be canvassers had only to fill out some forms and display their permits on request from law enforcement or from people they approached. The regulation applied neutrally to all canvassers, not just Jehovah's Witnesses, so it was not a discriminatory effort to thwart a particular ministry -- though that might have been its original purpose."

The editorial adds: Yet the court rightly rejected even this minimal regulation. Requiring people to register in order to speak, as Justice Stevens points out, renders certain types of spontaneous speech illegal."

The "Post" concludes: "It isn't the place of government to protect people from being irritated by the religious or political convictions of those among whom they live. People who don't like canvassers can protect themselves by using their unfettered right to slam their front doors."


"The Independent" comments unfavorably in an editorial on Europe-wide strikes against EU plans to reform air-traffic control. "The 'single skies' policy will make the business of moving people around this small continent simpler and cheaper by effectively abolishing national borders in airspace. Instead of planes having to negotiate numerous air spaces -- each with its own system of air-traffic control -- pilots will have to deal with only one authority. The unions concerned, in Greece, France, Spain, and Italy, are primarily interested in their members' jobs. This is, of course, a legitimate concern for the unions, but they are certainly not militating in favor of cheaper air travel for passengers. The 'single skies' policy is an essential part of welding Europe together economically and raising its productivity to American levels. The unions' action should be resisted."


Britain's "The Times" says in an editorial that U.S President George W. Bush seems to be edging toward a peace initiative in the Middle East that comprises "a painfully balanced compromise." "A plausible Bush initiative needs new Palestinian leaders," the paper adds.

"The United States may, even now [after yesterday's suicide bombing in Jerusalem, which left 19 people dead], be able to persuade Israel that a political bargain is possible if a credible Palestinian leadership can be presented. And there would be no group of people better served by such a development than the genuinely poor and really hopeless in the West Bank and Gaza. They need economic investment, a plausible diplomatic settlement, and better leaders more than anybody else in the region."


Robert Satloff is director of policy and strategic planning at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. In a commentary published by "The Wall Street Journal Europe," he writes: "President Bush [is pursuing a] realpolitik balance of being simultaneously the most pro-Israel and pro-Saudi president in history. Hence, the effort to try in vain to fit the round Arafat peg into the square 'peace process' hole, all the while supporting Israel's right to self-defense."

But, writes Satloff, "it cannot work." He says, "America's interests and those of the Arafat-jihadist alliance that runs Palestine today are incompatible."

The commentator continues: "The president's expected declaration on Palestine, therefore, will not mark a bold, new chapter in U.S. policy. On the contrary, it is an example of avoiding a decision, not taking one. If President Bush is serious about Arab-Israeli peacemaking, he must choose between support for the Palestinian people and sufferance of the current Palestinian leadership. A speech on that theme may break some diplomatic china -- at home and abroad -- but anything less will fail the test of making real progress toward peace."


Writing in "The New York Times," Thomas Friedman comments on what he terms a "war of ideas" being fought out in Iran. "What if a theocracy and a democracy had a baby? What would it look like? It would look like Iran."

"What makes Iran so interesting is that it's not a real democracy, but it's not a real Islamic theocracy either. It is, though, just enough of a democracy for many Iranians to know that they want more of it, and just enough of an Islamic theocracy for many Iranians to know they want less of it."

The writer continues: "It's ironic that the war of ideas that the West hoped would be fought in the Arab Muslim world after 11 September -- a war against the Islamic fascism of Osama bin Laden that would be waged by Arabs offering a democratic, Islamic, progressive alternative -- has not happened, because there is not enough democracy in most places there for that war to even begin. But it is being fought in Iran -- not in response to 11 September but in response to Iran's own bad experiences with secular despotism and religious despotism."


An editorial in "The Boston Globe" addresses last weekend's parliamentary elections in France. The "Globe" says: "On Sunday, in an unmistakable display of exasperation, French voters went to the polls to throw out a Socialist government they blamed for failing to stop muggers, purse snatchers, and car thieves."

The editorial continues: "The message sent to the political class by French voters seems to be that the public wants a tougher, more effective approach to street crime than the Socialists were able to muster but not the 'French first' scapegoating of immigrants that nationalist Jean-Marie Le Pen was selling."


The "Los Angeles Times" objects in an editorial to what its headline calls U.S. President George W. Bush's "go it alone" approach to international affairs and national security. "As terrorist threats mount, the United States has responded through its defense policies. President Bush's proposal to strengthen the Homeland Security Office is a sizable shift that makes good sense. U.S. international defense policy since World War II is a touchier issue, however. It has depended on collaboration with NATO, the United Nations, and other treaty organizations. That bedrock should remain."

The editorial continues: "Bush has made tentative steps toward a more preemptive policy for months, saying the U.S. must respond to threats before they are carried out. In urgent, specific cases such as attacking terrorist training camps, that's fair enough. But his call in a speech Friday (14 June) for a new doctrine of preemptive attacks against potential threats -- maybe Iraq today, yet conceivably any troublesome nation -- goes too far in making the U.S. a power answerable only to itself."