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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
May 21, 2008
Interview of the First Lady by Nadia Bilbassy-Charters, Al Arabiya TV
East Reception Room
10:41 A.M. EDT
Q Mrs. Bush, thank you very much for your time.
MRS. BUSH: Thank you so much.
Q And we're going to talk about your return from the Middle East.
MRS. BUSH: That's right.
Q You have visited Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt. You have seen many programs there. Putting politics aside, do you see the potential for people to get together, especially between Israel and the Arab nations?
MRS. BUSH: Well, I really hope so. I see a region that has people who are very, very accomplished, people who -- there are a lot of resources in the Middle East, both natural resources, as well as the resources of a very entrepreneurial-type person. And so I think the Middle East could have huge, thriving economies.
I hope and pray that there will be a peace, that Palestine will be able to build its own country and have a free Palestinian state living side by side with Israel. I know that's what President Bush wants. And I think it would be very, very important for the whole Middle East if that could happen.
I think the Palestinian people could build a terrific country, because I know the Palestinian people are hard-working, they're smart, and I think they're -- it would just make such a huge difference if that peace could come about and Palestine could build its own state.
Q You have been a leading activist in cancer, breast cancer awareness. The program in Saudi Arabia in particular seems to be very successful. How did you manage to raise a very sensitive issue in a conservative society?
MRS. BUSH: Well, I really was encouraged by what had already happened in the United States, because even though people in the Middle East may not really believe it, we're basically a conservative society as well. And about 25 years ago, women would never mention breast cancer, and if you did get a diagnosis, you were embarrassed and didn't talk about it.
But then two things happened. First, two of our First Ladies, Betty Ford and Nancy Reagan, both got diagnosis of breast cancer, and they made that public, which then gave other women the courage to talk about breast cancer. And then the Komen Foundation for the Cure was founded by Nancy Brinker, founded for her sister Susan who had died of breast cancer.
And once everyone started wearing the pink ribbon in the United States and they started to do all those Races for the Cure, where people would get out and walk in their pink t-shirts and dedicate their walks to their mother who might have had breast cancer, or to their sister, then it became something that women in the United States would talk about. And not only would they talk about it, but they would encourage their own mother or their sisters to get mammograms and to do breast self-exams, because we know there's no cure; the only thing we can do is detect breast cancer early. And then there are very successful treatments for breast cancer if you detect it early.
We do know that in the Middle East, Arab women are presenting with breast cancer about 10 years younger than women do in the Western world. And so, we don't know why that is, but it's very, very important for Arab women to do self-exams, because if you find a lump and you get very quick treatment, then you're much more likely to be able to be a survivor.
And my mother is a survivor of breast cancer; my grandmother also had breast cancer. So this is an issue that's important to me. And I think it's important to women everywhere, which is why I thought it was especially important for me to be able to go and talk about these issues in countries that are conservative, where women might not have mentioned it. But I know when women are talking together, they can talk about it.
Q You have been to the Middle East many times, and since you also went to Afghanistan and other places. The President always stresses the participation in women in the political process. Do you see that as a good thing from the President to say? Some people might say that's interference. How do you see?
MRS. BUSH: Well, I think that that is an issue that every country has to work with culturally, themselves, and figure out what's right for them. You know, women in the United States didn't get the right to vote for over the first hundred years of the United States. Even though our Constitution says all people are created equal, women didn't receive the right to vote until the 1920s. In fact, my mother was born before women received the right to vote in the United States.
And I think what happens is that each culture and each country and each society needs to work through those issues that have to do with gender. I do know that women everywhere around the world, and mothers everywhere around the world, want their children to be successful. They want to be able to contribute to the life of their country in some way, however they can, to make their own country successful and life for the people in their countries pleasant and peaceful and hopeful.
And so I think that there is a place for women to be involved in civic life, and I hope that each country around the world will not deny their women the right to be able to contribute to life in their countries. We know that successful countries, in successful countries, everybody -- women and men and children -- have something they can do to make their country successful.
Q In your visit to Egypt, you said that you're going to read one of Naguib Mahfouz's famous novel.
MRS. BUSH: I read it on the way home.
Q You did?
MRS. BUSH: I read it on the flight home.
Q So what do you think of it?
MRS. BUSH: Well, I really liked it. I mean, it's written in a very -- obviously he won the Nobel Prize for Literature for it because of the way it was written, because it was written in such a fascinating and interesting and -- the story is not a -- the story is sort of a grim story, actually. But the way it's written, you have to just keep reading it as fast as you can, I think, because it's so interesting and fascinating. So I liked it a lot.
Q One side people in the Middle East they don't know about you, actually, you are an author, that you wrote a book with Jenna. Tell us about this experience, and how would a mother and daughter sit down and write thoughts and produce a book, actually?
MRS. BUSH: Well, this book we've written, it's for children, and it's an illustrated children's book. And we had a wonderful artist -- Denise Brunkus is her name -- who did the pictures for it.
But it's really based on stories that I used to tell Barbara and Jenna when they were little about children that I taught when I taught school, and funny stories and funny things that I thought children did in my classes when I was a teacher. They used to ask me to tell stories about them. And so really, after Jenna and I wrote it, we realized we'd been writing this book for years, that we'd started when they were probably in the 3rd or 4th grade because we'd told -- I'd told them stories about these children.
And obviously this is a made-up story, but it's based on real stories that really happened when I was a teacher. It's about reading. It's about a little boy who can do everything, and he's very accomplished, and he rules the school. But he just doesn't like books, because they're not real.
And then it's about his very persistent teacher who just reads a storybook to the school, to the class, every day. And finally, as the year goes on, he finds himself more and more fascinated with stories, and these characters come alive to him.
And I think that's what it all is. I think we all love stories. I think every human loves to hear stories. And that's the whole point of the Big Read that we were talking about in Egypt, and that is this idea that if we can let each other know what our stories are, that we're more likely to see how we're alike instead of how we're different.
Q Would you write your autobiography about your experience in the White House?
MRS. BUSH: I don't know if I will or not. I mean, obviously that's what most people when they leave the White House do. And I hope I have the discipline to actually write a book. (Laughter.)
Q I hope so. I asked you this question before. When you married the President, you said, I'm not going to give a political speech. Now we see a different side of Laura Bush. She's an activist in health care and education. And now you're a champion of human rights in Burma. Why did you choose Burma, and how can you choose one cause as opposed to other against human rights?
MRS. BUSH: Well, I just became very interested in Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who is a political prisoner in Burma. She's a Nobel Prize-winning woman. And I am interested in women's issues. I mean, that's one of the reasons that I wanted to talk about breast cancer in the Middle East, because I think it's a issue that affects women in such an emotional way -- not just that you get sick, but just the idea of breast cancer is so difficult for women to accept.
And anyway, so I became interested in Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, which then made me interested in Burma. So that's one of the reasons I've spoken out. Last year, last August, a year ago, when we watched, when everyone watched how the people -- the Buddhist monks in Burma who were protesting peacefully were brutally assaulted and those protests broken up. And so it just made me want to say something about it, just in support of the people of Burma.
But I also am interested in the rights of the people of Palestine and the people of the Middle East. I want to see peace there. I hope we can see a world that's free from terrorism. No one, no mother, wants to live like that where she's worried that her children and the people she loves might die in a terrorist attack. And I think it's really important for all us, and especially for women around the world, to stand together and say enough is enough; let's stop this and let's live in peace and let's have peace with each other.
Q Now, you talk about women's issues and you're interested in them. Would you like to see a woman President, regardless of which party she was in?
MRS. BUSH: No, I would like to see a Republican woman as President. (Laughter.)
Q But, I mean, regardless --
MRS. BUSH: Sure, I mean, I think it's -- obviously I think it's important for women to be involved in the political life of their country, and I hope that more and more women in the United States become involved in politics in the United States, and I hope we see it worldwide, because I think women can bring an interesting perspective.
Q Now, you are very popular here. Your popularity rating is quite high. What would you say that your major achievement in the last seven years in the White House?
MRS. BUSH: Well, that's a difficult question to answer. I hope that -- there are a lot of things, obviously, that I've worked on. I've always been interested in education. I've always been interested in literacy. I'm a librarian; that was my career. And so I hope that education is better in the United States because of the President's No Child Left Behind Act, but also because of ways that I've supported it.
I hope that UNESCO -- I'm the honorary chairman of the United Nations Decade of Literacy, and I hope that the U.N. and the goals of UNESCO for every country to increase literacy have gotten -- at least we've been able to get the message out to governments that it's important for them to make sure they invest in the literacy and the education of their citizens. I think that would go -- if citizens were educated everywhere, I think it would make us a more peaceful world.
Q Do you see yourself as an "ultimate diplomat," as some people described you?
MRS. BUSH: I didn't think of that. I would have never thought of that when George was elected. You know, when he was elected, I expected to only work on domestic issues. It didn't occur to me that what happened on September 11th would happen, and then what followed, this real interest of his -- and mine -- to see peace, to see an end to terrorism, would happen. But that is what happened. And so I hope I can represent my country in a way that lets people know what the United States is really like.
Q Do you see the role of the First Ladies evolving over the years?
MRS. BUSH: I think they have, although we've had very, very successful and ambitious and influential First Ladies from the very first. Martha Washington was very revered, but Abigail Adams was -- and this was at the very first of our country when of course women didn't get the right to vote -- but she said to her husband, "Don't forget the women," when they were forming the whole Constitution and the Bill of Rights for the United States.
And so we've had very, very activist First Ladies since our beginning. And those women have been very beneficial. We've benefitted from what American First Ladies have been interested in -- Lady Bird Johnson and the way she was interested in the native environment and planting of the native wildflowers all over the United States. And that's been a huge benefit for our country.
Q And finally, you have raised two daughters in the White House. And how would you advise the next President, if they have children, to keep them away from the media and have their privacy, but yet have some kind of a normal life?
MRS. BUSH: Well, I think it's very important to try to have a normal life when you live here. And in fact, the White House is a home. It's a grand building and it's a museum and it's a place that people tour and work, with the West Wing and the East Wing. But it's also a family's home, and families have lived here since our second President. And families that have lived here have celebrated things like the wedding that we just celebrated two weeks ago; they've had tragedies; they've had triumphs; they've had happy family times. And so my advice would be to make this a home for your family, you know, make it a place where you can have meals together and laugh together and watch television together and do all of the things that families do everywhere and that make really wonderful family memories for your children.
Q Mrs. Bush, thank you very much for your time.
MRS. BUSH: Thank you so much. I appreciate it very much.
Q It's always a pleasure to see you.
MRS. BUSH: Thanks a lot.
END 10:57 A.M. EDT