Thursday, February 17, 2011

Reporting World News

It is shocking, seen from the perspective of a Western sensibility. It is shaming for the public face of Egypt, with the news of a CBS news correspondent, a vibrant young woman intent on pursuing her reporting from the scene of a world-shattering event, having been attacked by a ravening mob of psychopathic men intent on demonstrating their misogynistic contempt for her, a Western woman.

On the other hand, it might be seen as gender politics as usual in Egypt, where Egyptian women, even those garbed carefully head-to-foot in a traditional black, form-concealing burqa, can have their clothing torn away and be sexually assaulted. It is not unusual for groups of men to prowl the streets to seek out and victimize women.

In crowded streets where throngs of people may gather women have found themselves savagely molested in a society which believes implicitly that women's wiles are responsible for men's inability to discipline their libidos, their urges to reach out and take what they feel is theirs by advantageous proximity.

This is a Neanderthal mentality, a primitive, instinctual, uncivilized sense of male entitlement. And it is one encouraged by a religion and social custom that holds women to be inferior to men, and as such chattels. As objects of physical desire, women's intelligence is held in dispute, their right to sovereign ownership of their bodies, non-existent.

They are themselves to blame if they come to harm at the hands of desiring men if they flaunt their bodies by dressing conspicuously. But if they dress 'modestly', with full body coverings there is no guarantee even then that they will be respected as autonomous beings, free from male persecution, their right to safety and security inviolable.

In Tahrir Square, reporting for "60 Minutes" at a time of great jubilation for the throngs gathered there, after the news of the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, Lara Logan and her crew found themselves "surrounded by a dangerous element amidst the celebration". A mob of 200 people circling them. She became separated and subjected to a sustained sexual assault and beating.

It was somehow understandable that she would finally be rescued from her unspeakable ordeal by a group of women. Women rescuing women from the predations of a mob of brutal men intent on humiliating and destroying women in the process of satisfying their appetite for physical domination, for shaming women, for destroying their confidence in themselves and the world surrounding them.

In the process of beating and assaulting her, perhaps to further justify in their minds that it was their right and obligation to mercilessly destroy this woman's soul, the words "Jew, Jew!" were repeatedly shouted, inflaming the crowd attacking her all the more. Who could be held in greater contempt by Egyptians than lowly Jews? And identifying this woman as a Jew validated her being brutalized by the sex-crazed thugs.

She had earlier described having been detained by Egyptian police the night before the attack. "We were all blindfolded. They blindfolded me, but they said if I didn't take it off they wouldn't tie my hands. They kept us in stress positions. They made me put my head down. It was all through the night. We were pretty exhausted." She is not a Jew. But she now knows of a certainty what a Jewish woman might feel under those circumstances.

"We were accused of everything", she said. The Egyptian police accused her and her crew of being "Israeli spies", or agents. This is a reflection of the society into which she and her colleagues and other reporters found themselves. They had the relative freedom to report what they saw and heard, but they were also aware of the element of danger involved. A week earlier many reporters had been detained and beaten.

There were other women journalists who complained about being harassed and singled out by crowds in and around Tahrir Square and various other locations. None of them has as yet claimed to have been treated to the kind of attention that Ms. Logan was agonizingly subjected to. They were being treated to an Egyptian specialty.

Where packs of young men go out on occasion to track down young women to grab at their bodies. Even those wearing the khaliji abaya, long black voluminous body-covering gowns. The women have their clothing pulled off along with their veils, and they are savagely groped. And gang-raped.

Women in Egypt have protested but government agencies always denied any such happenings.

So security was never invoked to ensure that the message was sent that it was not all right for mobs of men to prowl about looking for female victims. Whose lives in a Muslim society would be destroyed by such attacks. Since it is the woman's morals, not those of the men who attack them, that are held to be responsible for what happens to women.

The authorities have always denied that these attacks occur. If they did, they insisted, they were rare occurrences, certainly not indicative of anything amiss in society. Accounts of sexual attacks on women were held to be complete fabrications, people making an issue where none existed. Human rights groups understand quite well the paucity of official reports by women who suffer such attacks.

They are held to be responsible, not those who attack them. Filing police reports has been an exercise in frustrating futility. There have been instances when police have stood back and witnessed thugs sexually assaulting women who took part in public protests. The dignity of the women is destroyed, and in the process the honour of her family, and she is held to be responsible.

In this instance, there is no hiding reality; a Western reporter was the victim and there were many witnesses. It may or may not be revealed whether there have been any others who shared her horrendous experience. But it does reveal a deeply disturbing and well-established social malaise in Egyptian society.

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