By Pat Roush
Tuesday, March 18, 2003 1:00 a.m.
After nine months of captivity at the hands of a homeless, self-proclaimed “prophet” and his wife, missing teen, Elizabeth Smart, is physically back home with her loving family.
There continues to be great conjecture in the media and among psychologists, pundits and commentators why the girl didn’t alert people to her true identity or walk-run away when she was in public places with her kidnappers. Everyone from Patty Hearst to Bill O’Reilly has had a say in the matter recently, but one thing is for certain – Elizabeth didn’t leave.
It’s funny that Bill O’Reilly on his TV show last week used the same word – “bolt” – when describing what Elizabeth Smart didn’t do when she supposedly had the chance and also what my daughters didn’t do when the Saudi government took them to London last September. Surrounded by an entourage of Saudi men and a “minder” from an American PR firm paid millions each year by the Saudi government, my daughters had never – never – been out of Saudi Arabia for 17 years! But there they were in the UK on the same weekend that a congressional delegation went to the desert kingdom to plead with Saudi authorities to release them.
While Elizabeth’s ordeal was no doubt a living hell, what horrors have my daughters had to face living inside a totalitarian kingdom, locked up inside a family compound for almost two decades, with a father who was diagnosed with a violent behavioral illness under a regime that threatens, tortures and kills women for the slightest notion?
When Saudi honcho, Adel Jubeir, baited Bill to interview my daughters last August while on “The Factor,” O’Reilly jumped at the chance to send in one of his producers from San Diego to, as he said, “eyeball ‘em.” After asking the girls a few questions – and one particularly posed to 20-year-old Aisha, who was kidnapped when she was only 3, about Osama bin Laden – he continued to make comments for seven consecutive days on his TV show, radio show and column about how these women were “brainwashed” and could have “bolted” when they had a chance. “Are they even worth saving?” Would anyone ask, “Is Elizabeth Smart worth saving because she didn’t leave when she might have?” Such questions are ludicrous.
The king of the “No Spin Zone” defined himself as my daughters’ liberator and savior, but when after a brief interview they didn’t leave with his southern California kinda gal Friday whom he had flown half way around the world to meet them, Mr. O’Reilly quickly became their judge, jury and executioner. The women, now ages 20 and 24, didn’t walk out of that posh London hotel with the English-speaking consular officer from the American embassy who went trotting over there at the request of Mr. Jubeir either. Nor did they leave with the Saudi-friendly Associated Press reporter who had flown in from Cairo to write the matter up for the world to review – “Saudi Daughters Reject American Mother.” No, Elizabeth, Alia and Aisha didn’t leave. But why?
How fragile we humans are. We need love. We need to feel secure. We need comfort. We need to feel safe. What happens when we are coerced and no longer able to make our own decisions even as adults – let alone innocent children – who are told horrible things will come true if they cross their captors. My daughters were told, “Allah will kill your whole family if you leave.” When I saw them eight years ago in a hotel room in Riyadh, their eyes were downcast and they looked like dogs that had been beaten with their spirit driven out of them.
We don’t know what Elizabeth was told, or what happened, but we know it was just as evil. If a grown woman like Patty Hearst who was educated, wealthy and worldly could be convinced to rob a bank after being kidnapped by the SLA, how could we expect traumatized girls like my daughters to walk out of a London hotel with strangers who offer them nothing and whose lifestyle is alien to them? Do they even know what freedom is? And how could we expect Elizabeth to leave the man who controlled her just as much as the Saudis control my daughters?
They call it the Stockholm Syndrome. That person or group that took you away is now your lifeline and sooner or later an identity is formed with them. Does that mean they are not worth saving? Does that mean they should never come back or we should “write them off?” Go ask the Smart family that question.
Elizabeth wore a veil over her pretty face, as do my girls. She now has a choice; they have none. When the authorities wouldn’t heed their advice concerning the kidnapper, the Smart family took the story to the American people who really are the heroes in this happy ending.
I am now bringing my story to you, my fellow Americans. The State Department betrayed my daughters for Saudi oil, but I am asking you to bring them home. Let Alia and Aisha take those black veils off their beautiful faces and walk clearly into the light. Bring them home.