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WikiLeaks: Catty Embassy Gossip Directed at Azerbaijan’s First Lady

A misogynistic attack on Mehriban Aliyeva, an accomplished, independent woman who serves as a stylish role model for young Muslim girls.

by
Norma Zager

Bio

January 30, 2011 - 12:00 am

With all the horrific and disturbing headlines exploding before the world’s eyes on a daily basis, there is something almost comforting in knowing that in many quarters, gossip remains the order of the day.

Rather a sweeping statement, I concur, but its truth is verified when one reads the WikiLeaks documents.

The knowledge that the U.S. State Department is populated with a cadre of Liz Smith wannabees is information I could have happily lived without, but isn’t it comforting to know that as we are busily fighting terror and battling religious extremists for our very survival, the government gossips are cattily tearing Azerbaijan’s first lady apart from head to toe?

The comments were juicy, and I am certain a welcome aside to the usual hard-core political issues our State Department faces hourly, presumably. The Guardian reports on U.S. embassy cables released by WikiLeaks:

Aliyeva is dubbed more “fashion-conscious and daring” than the “average woman in majority-Muslim Azerbaijan.” …“The first lady “wears dresses that would be considered provocative even in the Western world,” it says.

There was also a derogatory mention of  Aliyeva’s cosmetic surgery. These are the tamer and nicer comments taken from official U.S. diplomatic cables.

Should I be happy this gossip created a brief respite in their tedious care-worn day? Or should I be shocked at the inappropriate behavior this displays toward a nation that is genuinely and steadfastly friendly to the United States, Israel, and our allies?

I choose the latter.

As a journalist who is adamantly opposed to censorship and any impediments to free speech, I still can’t help but be appalled by the backbiting beauty salon barbs our officials delivered toward Mehriban Aliyeva and her nation, Azerbaijan, and their contemptible attitude.

If she were to walk about dressed in rags, unkempt and looking saggy and baggy, their comments would have surely castigated her for a lack of self-esteem. Even for refusing to show oneself in the public forum with a regal and attractive demeanor.

Jackie Kennedy was the darling of the world and she certainly presented herself as the most elegant and couture-driven fashionista of any past or future first lady.

Written by a man, the gossip-ridden official U.S. dispatch is a typical representation of the misogynistic inadequacy of someone who likely wouldn’t dare to criticize his own wife’s/partner’s fashion choices, yet feels comfortable enough putting that in an official correspondence to the U.S. secretary of State. Of course, nowhere in the embassy cables emanating from Azerbaijan is there any reference to male politicians’ clothing or style.

Even more disturbing is that the official recipient of a cable is Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who, having broken through several glass ceilings herself and readily complained about being a target of sexism in her career, should have been appalled by such malicious nonsense. What would she think of a foreign embassy spending time during major international crises discussing her fashion and hair styles or, perhaps, her predecessor’s skirts?

When did attractive women become fodder for ridicule? Is it because Betty Friedan is gone, Gloria Steinem has sold out, and feminism is an old pathetic joke for those who inherited its trials and tribulations? Is it possible to believe the movement has survived when women are mutilated and murdered daily throughout the world and when educated, accomplished women like Mehriban Aliyeva provide fodder for barbs and cynicism?

Sadly, this happens while Iranian-backed radicals seek to impose religious headdress on schoolgirls in the traditionally and staunchly secular Azerbaijan. The issue is not a matter of choice or a religious freedom as the Iranian ayatollahs describe in their anti-Azerbaijani sermons; it is an imposition on schoolchildren, who are too young to make their own choices on this matter. As this is happening, the U.S. embassy in Azerbaijan chooses to disparage the inspiring role model for young women in Azerbaijan and Muslim women and girls beyond. It is little surprise, therefore, that the rhetoric of the U.S. government, i.e. taxpayer-sponsored Radio Free Europe, and that of Iranian religious leaders is shockingly similar. Am I the only one who sees a problem here?

The U.S. government calls for equal rights for women in Muslim lands, spends millions promoting education for Muslim girls, but a strong, educated Muslim woman (who also happens to dress well) seems to be too much to bear for both our diplomats and Iranian ayatollahs alike?

Perhaps one of the more interesting aspects of this brouhaha is the fact so many are unfamiliar with the country of Azerbaijan, its moderate, secular Muslim stance and, indeed, its first lady’s numerous and enviable achievements. Famous politicians and their wives have already cultivated an image and possess fans and detractors in the National Enquirer-type media. Here, however, the source of vicious rumors bears the seal of the U.S. State Department, lending all this misogynistic nonsense an undeserved degree of credibility.

Perhaps those who are busy critiquing her should note that Mehriban Aliyeva is accomplished and dedicated to enhance humanitarian efforts among nations. Aside from raising three children, the education projects she initiated in her country and her work toward enhancing human relations in the world are no doubt the result of her childhood as the daughter of intelligent, highly motivated education advocates.

After attending the Azerbaijan Medical University, she finished her studies at Sechenov Moscow Medical Academy. After working at the Moscow Scientific Research Institute o Eye Diseases, she established the Friends of Azerbaijani Culture Foundation. She then created Azerbaijan Heritage Culture and History magazine, serving as its first editor-in-chief. Her awards and honors worldwide are enviable.

The first lady of Azerbaijan deserves kudos for her accomplishments, not a critique of her appearance by U.S. diplomats in official cables. Her life is an example of what women can and have achieved. If anything, we need more strong, educated, and, perhaps, stylish women like Mehriban Aliyeva in the Muslim world. How sad for the U.S. diplomatic community that it still possesses such a childish playground mentality.

Might that not explain some of the world’s problems rather succinctly?

Zager is a freelance journalist and columnist who teaches at California State University, Los Angeles. In addition to receiving several honors and awards in journalism, Zager is also the author of numerous books.
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