According to media watchdog group The Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 52 journalists were attacked during the recent revolution in Egypt. One of them was American television correspondent Lara Logan.
On February 11, the day Mubarak finally gave in to protesters’ demands sparking nationwide celebrations, Logan, in the words of her employer CBS, suffered a “brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating”.
It is moments such as this that require cross-cultural introspection on how men treat women. Rape as we all know, is by no means confined to Arab cultures. And yet this incident, like so many before it, has been greeted in the West largely with a predictable chorus of victim blaming and Islamaphobia.
The awful truth is, the denigration of women — of which sexual assaults are a result — exists everywhere. In every country, every culture, every religion. A football player in Australia designs T-shirts for men featuring images of women’s naked buttocks. American men attending football matches are treated to a warm-up game featuring women competing in lingerie. The Prime Minister of Italy is facing trial for having sex with an under-age prostitute. And rape continues to be used as a weapon of war in the Congo. There exists a fundamental, and worldwide, lack of respect for women.
Sexual harassment is a big problem in Egypt with 83% of local women and 98% of tourists claiming they have been harassed on the street. As one of those 98% I can testify to been followed, propositioned and generally, well harassed, on the streets of Cairo as a young backpacker. But I have also had my genitals groped on an escalator in Sydney, my boob “fondled” at a sporting event in America and my butt grabbed in a nightclub in Toronto.
Many news outlets and blogs reporting on the story drew attention to Logan’s appearance, repeatedly referring to her “shocking good looks”. Such reports fuel the myth that only good-looking women get raped, and that Logan should have known this would happened to her, and really it’s her fault for being so stupid.
This perspective is summed up in a blog called MoFo Politics, which on February 3 (before the assault) posted an article on Logan where the author, referring to her as “ridiculously hot”, admitted that if legal repercussions were not forthcoming “I would totally rape her”.
Blogger and regular cable news guest Debbie Schlussel, whom we would consider extreme in Australia but who has a loyal and increasingly mainstream following in America, also questioned what a “blonde American woman” was doing among the “Muslim animals” in Egypt.
The actual answer, of course, is her job. But this didn’t stop Schlussel from denigrating Logan simply for being there while simultaneously concluding that Islam was to blame.
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“So sad. Too bad. No one told her to go there. She knew the risks. And she should have known what Islam is all about. Now she knows.”
Apparently, to Schlussel and fellow anti-Muslim zealot blogger Pamela “Ground Zero Mosque” Geller, the millions of Muslims who protested peacefully are not representative of Islam but the few who committed an opportunistic crime are.
And what of the group of women and 20 or so soldiers who rescued Logan? Are they representative of Muslims? Apparently, even some of the mainstream media doesn’t think so.
The Washington Post’s Alexandra Petri, particularly incensed that this happened to “a known, blonde, white woman”, also took it as an opportunity to proclaim how much superior American culture is to Arab culture, writing:
“I take for granted my ability to walk unmolested in the street. I don’t believe this could have happened here. And the idea that such a horror could take place in the midst not of pervasive violence but of celebration is especially shocking.”
Had Petri bothered to research the archives of her own newspaper, she would have come across a celebratory event in America many have dubbed “Rapestock”, otherwise known as Woodstock 1999.
That celebration of youth and music turned ugly when police revealed they were investigating several incidents of rape, most of which occurred in the mosh pit, the most crowded and rowdy section of the concert. This is what one eyewitness told The Washington Post:
“I saw someone push this girl into the mosh pit …Then a couple of the guys started taking her clothes off …They pulled her pants down and they were violating her, and they were passing her back and forth. There were five guys that were raping this girl … it seemed like most of the crowd around them were cheering them on.”
Logan is been subjected to victim blaming even as she is recovering from her ordeal. Her private life, as so often happens to rape victims, came under intense scrutiny with one fellow journalist, Nir Rosen, resigning from his position as fellow at NYU after a particularly nasty Twitter outburst.
The victim blaming, combined with the vilification of the entire culture and religion of the country Logan happened to be raped in, is symptomatic of the double standard with which the West views itself. Blind to its own faults, it gleefully highlights the same faults in others, thus perpetuating a vicious circle of misogyny and racism.