Five Best Thursday Columns

On political wives, female genital mutilation, and the torture debate

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Connie Shultz on Political Wives  Connie Shultz, Pulitzer-winning commentator and columnist who also happens to be married to Senator Sherrod Brown, notes in today's New York Times that the media frenzy surrounding Callista Gingrich and Maria Shriver exemplifies "the traditional narrative that casts [politician's] wives as either props or problems." She clarifies that Mrs. Gingrich, the woman for whom Newt left his second wife, did not break up their marriage--he did. She also stands behind Shriver: "Politically speaking, she is way off script. Thank God. And I'm cheering her from the sidelines, just as she did for me four years ago." Shultz reflects on Shriver's support during a stressful time, encouraging her to stick with journalism despite her husband's public role, something she clearly regretted giving up herself. "I'm not worried about Maria Shriver," writes Shultz. "She'll continue to write her own script as most of us women have come to expect. That applause you hear is ours."

Nicholas Kristof on Ending Female Genital Mutilation  New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof spotlights female genital mutilation, "one of the most pervasive human rights abuses worldwide, with three million girls mutilated each year in Africa alone." This tradition is one that Westerners have long protested with little success. "Is it cultural imperialism for Westerners to oppose genital mutilation?" he asks. "Yes, perhaps, but it's also justified. Some cultural practices such as genital mutilation--or foot-binding or bride-burning--are too brutish to defer to." Homegrown efforts by local women to end genital mutilation are far more respected within the culture. The tradition is carried out by Christians and Muslims but, since it is more common among those who believe it is part of Islam, "a crucial step has been to get a growing number of Muslim leaders to denounce the practice as contrary to Islam, for their voices carry particular weight." Kristof suggests that "embarrassment about the practice" may be one of the key first steps to eradicating it.

John McCain on Torture  John McCain opposes torture, including waterboarding, though he doesn't think those who carried out such interrogation techniques should be prosecuted because they did so in an effort to "protect Americans." But, he argues in The Washington Post, the debate over torture in interrogation must be an informed one. The assertion that waterboarding Khalid Sheik Mohammed led to Osama bin Laden's whereabouts "is false." Leon Panetta told McCain that the intel about bin Laden's courier "came from a detainee held in another country, who we believe was not tortured." Contrarily, the information derived from KSM during waterboarding turned out to be largely faulty. Abusing prisoners is dangerous both because it can produce "bad intelligence because under torture a person will say anything he thinks his captors want to hear--true or false--if he believes it will relieve his suffering" and because our own troops "might someday be held captive" by an enemy who believes in reciprocity. "I don’t mourn the loss of any terrorist's life," writes McCain. "What I do mourn is what we lose when by official policy or official neglect we confuse or encourage those who fight this war for us to forget that best sense of ourselves."

Con Coughlin on the Arab Spring's Summer Ahead  "Four months later, the worldwide enthuseasum that greeted this seemingly spontaneous outpouring of democratic pervour has been replaced by mounting concern at the way these protests have developed," writes Con Coughlin at The Telegraph about the so-called Arab Spring. He argues that "each state, and each revolt, must be assessed on its individual merits, rather than being treated as part of a pan-Arabian phenomenon that will affect everywhere in the region in equal measure." The history and internal rivalries differ from country to country as do the leadership. He also worries about "Iran's attempts to exploit the 'Arab Spring' for its own ends," for example in Syria, where "Iranian officials are reported to have been advising President Bashar al-Assad on the uncompromising measures employed by his security forces." Concludes Coughlin: "At this rate, the movement once called the Arab Spring promises to provide the region with a raging-hot summer in more ways than one."

Timothy Garton Ash on the Right to Criticize and Be Criticized  Taking politicians like the Dutch Geert Wilders to court for anti-Islamic statements is "the wrong way round, for reasons both of free-speech principle and political prudence," argues Timothy Garton Ash at The Los Angeles Times. The court's argument that "by attacking the symbols of the Muslim religion, he also insulted Muslim believers," is dangerous and invalid because it blurs "the line between attacking the believers and criticizing the belief...There is no rational argument against the color of someone's skin," he writes, but belief systems, on the other hand, can and should be questioned where necessary. But by simultaneously arguing for free speech and the ban of "the holy book for some 1.5 billion people," in addition to stifling the speech of his detractors, "Wilders takes the gold metal for hypocrisy." As a member of a Council of Europe working group to enforce equality, Ash argues that "Wilders should be free to call the Koran fascist, [his opponents] should be free to compare Wilders to the Nazis--and politicians should stop hiding behind the robes of judges."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.