BLACKBURN, England – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice heard passionate complaints Saturday from British Muslims about U.S. policies in Iraq, toward the Palestinians and at the American-run detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Some of the complaints were voiced respectfully by Muslim leaders who met with Rice. Others were chanted, shouted and screamed by anti Iraq-war protesters, who were present almost everywhere the secretary went during what her team planned as a goodwill visit.
Local commentary on Rice’s two-day outreach visit to northwest England has been harsh.
Saturday morning’s Guardian newspaper carried a half-page cartoon showing Rice and her host, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, holding a banner which said: “The Case for War.” The banner was riddled with holes and the caption read, “Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire,” a wry reference to the words of the Beatles song “A Day in the Life.”
Kam Kothia, one of the Muslim community leaders who met for an hour with Rice, said the group respectfully told her “we want to see change” in U.S. policies in the Muslim world. He said he told Rice that the Bush administration should engage, not isolate, the new Hamas government in the Palestinian areas, because it was democratically elected in a process Washington backed.
The anger at U.S. policies shows the hurdles Rice and her public diplomacy chief, Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes, face as they aggressively try to improve the U.S. image in the Muslim world. Their message is usually drowned out in a torrent of complaints about U.S. policies that affect Muslims.