The assault on Lara Logan and the assault on humanity
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While reporting on Egypt's political unrest in February, war correspondent Lara Logan was physically and sexually assaulted by a Cairo mob. On May 1, the same Sunday night that "60 Minutes" aired her taped interview about the attack, she appeared live on CBS to discuss the death of Osama bin Laden.
A column by the Boston Globe's Joanna Weiss and published in the Post-Gazette on May 5 is a powerful celebration of this defiant recovery -- up to a point. But it also gives a common and weird distortion of Ms. Logan's ordeal that says a lot more about American cultural politics than it says about Egypt or the Middle East.
The column reflected on Ms. Logan's struggle with self-blame and on others seeming to blame her too, with questions about the wisdom of sending attractive, blond, Western-garbed women into non-Western scenes of social upheaval. The attack and its public discussion, Ms. Weiss wrote, shed "a light on how women across the world are treated daily, and how far women in this country have to go."
As if this were a crime of gender inequality.
As if more education and social enlightenment will eliminate it.
The details of Ms. Logan's attack are horrifying. On the night of Hosni Mubarak's resignation, her team's local assistant suddenly urged her to leave the roiling public square when he heard voices crying in Arabic to tear her pants off.
But it was when someone yelled that she was an "Israeli" and a "Jew" that the sexual assault turned murderous. The all-male crowd literally tried to pull her apart limb from limb. It's odd that articles and opinion pieces have downplayed the anti-Semitic angle in favor of the sexual one, ignoring the attempted murder in favor of the rape.
Although the "60 Minutes" story noted that Egypt is known for rampant sexual harassment and violence, the truth is that male journalists working there have been victims of gang violence too -- the gangs having been incited by Egyptian media claiming that foreign journalists were really Jewish spies. The AP reported Feb. 4, for instance, that 21 journalists were assaulted and 24 detained by Mubarak forces in a 24-hour period.
So did the mob attack Ms. Logan because, like previous victims, she was a reporter and assumed to be a Jew, or did they attack her because she was a woman? Couldn't it be all three identities at once -- however false -- that fed their bloodlust?
And isn't it Western journalists who are objectifying the pretty, South African journalist -- by distorting what happened and reducing the violent complexity of international politics into a simpler sex crime?
Perhaps the gang that beat her with fists and sticks (as other male journalists had been beaten) also ravaged her sexual organs because it was another way to violate and humiliate her, and that's what violent mobs do to the "enemy."
As Americans have been taught for decades now, rape is not about sex, it's about power. It's about subjugating someone else. Whether the victim is a woman or a man, whether it's Egyptian rioters assaulting a reporter with their hands or New York City cops assaulting a suspect (Abner Louima) with a toilet plunger, the crime is the same. The victims just differ in what body parts they possess for their attackers to wound.
What are we to make, then, of the assertion that Ms. Logan's ordeal sheds light "on how women across the world are treated daily, and how far women in this country have to go"?
Egyptian society has a long way to go, certainly. Ms. Logan's life was saved when she literally fell into the lap of a woman dressed in a black chadoor -- only her eyes visible -- part of a group of women encamped outside the square. They shielded her from the male mob until Egyptian soldiers -- men -- arrived to carry her out.
But what does our discussion of this complex tragedy say about the condition of U.S. society? Is it true, as Ms. Weiss writes, that women question a female victim's judgment because they're afraid, deep down, that this could happen to them? Really?
Or does this discussion, which forces gender politics and only gender politics onto situations that are about far more, reveal that some of us are destructively parochial?
"How far we have to go" depends on where you're standing. I think it would be great progress for American women to address other nations' civil wars, rioting mobs and murderous anti-Semitism with the seriousness and accuracy they need.
Ms. Logan's return to work is a courageous expression of healing, but it's not only or even primarily about female empowerment. It's about human resilience in the face of crazed evil, something men and women alike can celebrate.
First Published May 16, 2011 12:00 am