Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Interview with The Atlantic: China, The Arab Spring, Mideast Peace
Here’s an excerpt:
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: I stayed on in Tunisia after you left, and the next day, I was downtown, and there was a demonstration forming. And I thought, “Great, young people yelling about something.” I couldn’t figure out what it was immediately. They’re in front of the Interior Ministry, and I mix in with the crowd and I find out that they’re demonstrating against an Interior Ministry decision to ban women from wearing the hijab in their photo IDs for their national identity cards, and this was a demonstration for the hijab. And I asked — I said, “Is this something that you would compel?” And they said, “No, but in our vision of society, people would know the role of men and the role of women.” And I thought to myself at this moment, “Man, I wish Hillary Clinton was here so I could ask her what she thinks of this.” THESE revolutions are moving in some ways that are pleasing to the American mind and some ways that aren’t pleasing.
SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: I have spoken to this on other occasions, because what I want to see is the freedom to choose for women and men in responsible ways that are protected by the laws of their society so that — my model, of course, would be our own country — women are able to dress as they choose in accordance with their own personal desires. And I would like to see that available to women everywhere so that there’s no compulsion, there’s no government coercion. It is a choice, and —
JG: So the red line is compulsion or anything —
JG: — on the continuum of compulsion.
HRC: Absolutely, anything on the continuum of compulsion. Now, I think there are security issues with, like, the burka, but if you’re talking about the hijab, which is the head scarf, for me, that is not a red line. Now, when people start to say, “Oh, but there are certain things women should not be permitted to do and the only way we can stop them from doing them is by passing laws against them,” like you can’t drive in Saudi Arabia or you can’t vote. They just had a riot in Bangladesh because the government wants women to inherit equally. That’s a red line, and that infringes on the rights of women, and therefore, I am against it and I think any society in the 21st century that is looking toward modernization, and certainly if they are claiming to be democratic, needs to protect the right to make those choices.
JG: Should we fear the Muslim Brotherhood?
HRC: Well, I think we don’t know enough yet to understand exactly what they’re morphing into. For me, the jury is out. There are some Islamist elements that are coming to the surface in Egypt that I think on just the face of it are —
JG: Coming out of jails, in fact.
HRC: Coming out of jails, coming out of the shadows, and they are inimical to a democracy, to the kind of freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of conscience that was the aspiration in Tahrir Square.
JG: Is there a situation in which a woman can find herself in a country where it’s not necessarily the law that you have to wear the hijab, but that a culture is created by the government that would cause you to raise a flag?
HRC: Of course, but that’s true in any society. You can go into neighborhoods in the United States where people dress a certain way because they don’t want to be out of touch, where boys wear pants down to their knees, which nobody has compelled them to do but they pick up the cultural norms, or where girls are improperly dressed by my eyes, but that’s what they see in the media.
So certainly, there are cultural norms and there are family expectations and there are even religious admonitions. But so long as there is not the coercion of the state, then I’m not going to be pointing fingers at people who make certain choices that I would not make, but within a democracy should be protected. But when it comes to political decision-making, then I think you have to be very careful that the people who are in those positions are understanding of their obligation to protect decisions that they do not necessarily agree with.
It’s almost impossible to imagine in today’s world, but there might be a family in our country that doesn’t want their children to learn to drive because they think it’s against their religion. Well, that’s very different than the family that says we don’t want our children to get medical assistance. And our courts step in and say, “That’s too far even for parental authority.” And similarly, in societies, you do not want so-called political decision makers, political parties, or political leaders to be making decisions that are going to infringe on the range of opportunities that should be available to both women and men.
JG: Should the U.S. now be using the bully pulpit to go to countries and say, “You know what, we have a system, liberal democracy, that works really well, and since you’re in this very fluid moment, you should look into this.” In other words, engage in the battle of ideas —
JG: — with Islamist parties.
HRC: Well, with everybody. The Islamist parties are the ones that, obviously, we look at with most worry. But there are remnants of old regimes that are also trying to prevent progress and keep people economically denied opportunity and politically denied their rights.
You can read the rest of the interview here.