Temple students disciplined or bored enough to watch the president’s State of the Union address last week were likely touched by a display of emotion and courage between Safia Taleb al-Suhail and Janet Norwood. We would like to think those same students were disgusted by what followed.
Safia, an Iraqi, sat next to First Lady Laura Bush and was referred to by the president as one of Iraq’s “leading democracy and human rights advocates.” Bush mentioned that her father was assassinated by Saddam’s regime 11 years ago and said Safia was thankful for the work of American soldiers.
When greeted by thunderous applause, she then stood and raised her ink-stained finger, signifying that she voted in Iraq’s election on Jan. 30.
Norwood is the mother of 25-year-old Byron Norwood, a marine who died in Iraq during the battle for Fallujah. She sent the president a letter explaining how her son was proud to be a marine.
“When Byron was home the last time, I said that I wanted to protect him like I had since he was born. He just hugged me and said: ‘You’ve done your job, mom. Now it’s my turn to protect you.'”
After the president read the passage, Norwood and her husband Bill stood to a round of applause, while Norwood embraced Safia. In an interview with MSNBC, Safia said the hug was both “spontaneous and emotional.”
The embrace, dubbed by many as the highlight of the evening, was then tarnished by a display that was completely devoid of feeling or spontaneity.
At another point during the address, a number of Republicans displayed their ink-stained fingers in an attempt to show unity with the people of Iraq who voted in last month’s election. But the only message confirmed by Republicans’ finger waving was grade-A cowardice.
Staining the fingers of voters in foreign countries, like Afghanistan and Iraq, is to ensure that a person does not vote twice. Due to high amounts of media coverage and powerful images of voters such as Safia, displaying the ink mark as a sign of peace or victory has transformed the practical application into a symbol of democracy.
Therefore, media-thirsty Republicans unable to miss a chance to publicly laud the war effort stained their fingers ahead of time and, in an effort that could only succeed in a “One, two, three, NOW” sort of way, chose the most opportune time to wave their purple paws.
This choreographed maneuver by some members of Congress trivializes the bravery of many, in fact millions, of Iraqis who did nothing short of risk their lives in order to vote just over a week ago.
To celebrate their achievement, Republicans who won’t have to face unimaginable hardships – the prospect of rampant suicide bombings, unstable electricity or raw sewage in the streets – when they return home, attempted to “identify” with those who do.
As MSNBC’s David Shuster noted, “If members of Congress want to show “solidarity” with the Iraqi people … they are welcome to head to Baghdad, put on a flak jacket and help/advise the new assembly on writing the constitution. Or, our lawmakers could serve as “election monitors” in Iraq when the constitution is put to a vote as early as this fall.”
They won’t, of course, because that would involve danger, courage and heroism, all of the true variety. Some Republican officials showed Americans last Wednesday that they are only capable of made-for-TV acts intended for political benefit.
And for those watching closely, during their display of utter falsehood, that truism was made shockingly apparent.