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Did We Mention It Was An Election Year? .”3:4417″1 I TRIBUNE MEDIA SE I S THE BURQA’S BACK Remember the Afghan women? Remember the burqa? Well, the burqa was very much in evidence this monthright here in Austin.We’re not talking about the head-to-toe covering imposed on women during the Taliban regimethe source of so much commentary by politicos and pundits last fall, as they assured us that bombs were falling over downtown Kabul to allow Afghan women to shed their burcias, dress as they please, and live free forever. No, no, no. We’re talking about the heavy-handed muzzling imposed by U.S. State Department handlers on a distinguished group of Afghan visitors and Austin journalists. After a trip to Washington, D.C., where they met with President Bush and members of Congress, a delegation of 14 women, including a judge, a speech writer for President Hamid Karzai, and a member of the nation’s new Ministry of Women, came to town for a little Texas hospitality, courtesy of the International Hospitality Council of Austin. During their stay here they were invited to a dinner at the home of attorney D’Ann Johnson and photographer Alan Pogue. [Note: Johnson is a member of the Observer’s Board of Directors. Pogue is the Observer’s longtime photographer, whose photographs of Afghan refugees have appeared in these pages]. Joining the Afghans at the luncheon was a group of Austinarea women, including Alberta Phillips, editorial writer and columnist for the Austin-American Statesman. Phillips did what any good reporter would do, given the opportunity: After listening to several of the women describe their remarkable lives, she decided to do a few interviews. That’s when the handlers went into Taliban-like ballistic mode, barking that no interviews were allowed. Phillips, struck by the irony of the situation, tried to remind them that this was, after all, still a free country with a free press. A male interpreter insisted that the women were too tired to deal with interviews, but were too shy to tell Phillips themselvesa peculiar conclusion, since one of the women in particular, Kabul judge Marzia Bazul, had expressed a definite interest in talking to Phillips. \(Hardly the shy type, Bazul had managed to keep alive a clandestine school for girls during the Taliban who currently works in the State Department, proceeded to ask Pogue what he planned to do with the photos that he was shooting of the Aghan womenin his own home. Meanwhile, during a conference at the University of Texas at Austin, Karen Hughesone of George W’s handlers and a recent returnee to Central Texasreferred to the visiting delegation of Afghan women. She also referred to the Iraqi people, hoping someday they would be free, just as the Afghans were now free. Except at Austin-area dinners, that is. continued on page 29 10/25/02 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11