U.S. Has a Duty To End Illiteracy, Bush Says

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The New York Sun

Part of America’s duty in its effort to spread freedom around the world and make terrorism less attractive is to stamp out illiteracy, President Bush told a gathering of first ladies — including his wife — and education ministers at New York Public Library yesterday.

“One reason radicals are able to recruit young men, for example, to become suicide bombers, is because of hopelessness. One way to defeat hopelessness is through literacy, is to giving people the fantastic hope that comes by being able to read and realize dreams,” the president said.

The Bush administration has persistently argued that the decision to invade Iraq and depose dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003 rested upon a desire to democratize the Middle East and stabilize the region. In their defense of the war, Mr. Bush and his political allies have often said that all people in the world have a right to freedom and democracy. The right to be able to read and write is a prerequisite to achieving the freedom enjoyed by Americans, the president said.

“We believe here in America in the universality of freedom. We don’t believe freedom belongs only to the United States of America,” Mr. Bush said, adding that, as literacy spreads, so will prosperity and harmony. “We also believe strongly that, as the world becomes more free, we’ll see peace.”

The president’s comments came just hours after first lady Laura Bush, a former librarian and schoolteacher, announced a $1 million contribution by America to a United Nations project to promote literacy. She called on other countries similarly to invest in reading and writing education.

The audience included the president’s mother, Barbara Bush, another prominent advocate of reading.

Opening the White House Conference on Global Literacy at the library, the first lady drew attention to her longtime aim of educating some of the estimated 771 million — 18% of the world’s population — who can’t read and write. Mrs. Bush noted that most of the world’s illiterate are women. The first lady said that higher literacy rates will mean less poverty and more economic self-sufficiency. “We can help building a healthier, more prosperous and more hopeful world,” she said.

Secretary of State Rice, who attended the conference with Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, introduced Mrs. Bush. Ms. Rice, who was the provost of Stanford University before she became one of the president’s top advisers, spoke from personal experience when she said that literacy had meant freedom for her own family.

“It is our hope to build societies where all individuals can achieve the full extent of their liberty,” she said, explaining how her family’s devotion to education and book learning transformed her family’s life in Jim Crow, Ala.

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