“I would have paid more attention to it if I had had any sense of it;” Lara Logan Breaks Her Silence
[Guest post by Aaron Worthing; if you have tips, please send them here. Or by Twitter @AaronWorthing.]
About two months ago, on the night the Mubarak regime fell in Egypt, Lara Logan “suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating before being saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers.” As I pointed out at the time, that vague description was too sparse. Well, in yesterday’s New York Times, Mrs. Logan finally spoke out about what happened and plans to talk more on 60 minutes. I had said—and received a lot of flak for saying—that we should know more than that. It even led some people to imagine I wanted a pornographic blow-by-blow when all I was looking for was to know generally what the hell happened. Like was it rape or what? I think what she says in the Times article is for the most part more than adequate and indeed harrowing. My only criticism is I would have liked to see her address the claim that the crowd kept shouting “Jew! Jew!” as they did it, either to confirm or deny it.
But what is interesting is how much this article also demonstrates that we were not being told nearly enough about this sort of thing:
Her experience in Cairo underscored the fact that female journalists often face a different kind of violence. While other forms of physical violence affecting journalists are widely covered — the traumatic brain injury ’suffered by the ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff in Iraq in 2006 was a front-page story at that time — sexual threats against women are rarely talked about within journalistic circles or in the news media.
With sexual violence, “you only have your word,” Ms. Logan said in the interview. “The physical wounds heal. You don’t carry around the evidence the way you would if you had lost your leg or your arm in Afghanistan.”
Little research has been conducted about the prevalence of sexual violence affecting journalists in conflict zones. But in the weeks following Ms. Logan’s assault, other women recounted being harassed and assaulted while working overseas, and groups like the Committee to Protect Journalists said they would revise their handbooks to better address sexual assault.
Jeff Fager, the chairman of CBS News and the executive producer of “60 Minutes,” said that the segment about the assault on Ms. Logan would raise awareness of the issue. “There’s a code of silence about it that I think is in Lara’s interest and in our interest to break,” he said.
Until now the only public comment about the assault came four days after it took place, when Ms. Logan was still in the hospital. She and Mr. Fager drafted a short statement that she had “suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating.”
That statement, Ms. Logan said, “didn’t leave me to carry the burden alone, like my dirty little secret, something that I had to be ashamed of.”
And indeed media silence on the issue might have contributed to this assault:
Before the assault, Ms. Logan said, she did not know about the levels of harassment and abuse that women in Egypt and other countries regularly experienced. “I would have paid more attention to it if I had had any sense of it,” she said. “When women are harassed and subjected to this in society, they’re denied an equal place in that society. Public spaces don’t belong to them. Men control it. It reaffirms the oppressive role of men in the society.”…
And one of the prices of that assault is the silencing of this woman, to a degree:
While Ms. Logan, CBS’s chief foreign affairs correspondent, said she would definitely return to Afghanistan and other conflict zones, she said she had decided — for the moment — not to report from the Middle Eastern countries where protests were widespread.
Of course the correct answer isn’t to be silenced but to have better protection. One bodyguard is not nearly enough, especially since the man was apparently unarmed. But at the same time, having been assaulted as she was, having genuinely and very reasonably feared for her life, I don’t blame her for being skittish.
The desire for silence was based on a number of issues. The first was the normal desire to respect her privacy. I always respected that desire, but I felt our need to know was overcome by two concerns. First, this wasn’t a private occurrence. This happened in a major public square in the capital of Egypt on a night of historic importance. Second, at some point, these “private” assaults become a matter of public concern, especially when we know that other women are contemplating whether to go to Egypt and similar countries as journalists. Don’t those women deserve a full warning so their consent to expose themselves to the danger is knowing and volulntary? Not to mention what it might say about Egyptian society and the makeup of that crowd.
The second and frankly more dubious force driving it is a desire to suppress any information that might put people who are Muslim in a bad light. Indeed, there are those who think it is bigoted to tell the truth about this sort of thing. It is true that if a person is prone to bigotry they will decide that this says something about all Muslims. But the answer isn’t to suppress the truth, but to address that wrongheaded thinking. When talking about humans, any broad-stroke statement about millions of people at once is bound to be wrong, unless it is almost or actually a tautology. Like it is probably correct to say that all Muslims believe that Mohammed was God’s greatest prophet, because that seems to be inherent in the definition of being a Muslim. But it is wrong to say that all Muslims are violent nutbags.
Indeed, what is doubly wrongheaded about that is that it assumes that her attackers were all ordinary Muslims. But as I have reported from just about the beginning of this, there were reports that just before it happened, that the Muslim Brotherhood had taken over the area. And further, if they were just ordinary Egyptians, why should we assume that all or most of them were Muslim? The country does have a sizeable Christian population. To be blunt, this all sounds more like female circumcision which is not really an Islamic belief, so much as a cultural belief that happens to exist in some areas dominated by Muslims. The two are demonstrably separate and severable.
But most of all, if the concern is to combat prejudice and discrimination, what about the prejudice and discrimination that Lara Logan and other women faced because they were women? The New York Times is convinced that there is a real problem over there with how women are treated and from what I have heard, they are probably right. All persons are created equal, but all cultures are not, and sometimes they have widespread bigotry toward one group or another and need to be reformed. We have an easy enough time saying that in the 1950’s America had a serious problem with sexism—and still does, to a degree—but for some reason it is unthinkable that another country might be similarly in need of reform. It is strange in the extreme to argue that there shouldn’t be any criticism of actual, current and horrific acts of discrimination against women because this might possibly inspire another form of discrimination toward Muslims or something down the road. Why not deal with the current problem, now, and deal with the potential problems only if they arise?
And besides in trying to keep the story from us, imaginations ran wild. In this post, for instance, I linked to a lot of different sources making different claims about what happened to Mrs. Logan. I haven’t checked the links to see if they are still live, but I remember what they said and many of those accounts were absolutely wrong. If you are terrified that people will draw the worst conclusions about Muslims or something like that, then you should have wanted the truth to come out, to give lie to the more horrific accounts going around.
In a weird way this is parallel to my feelings on Obama releasing (finally) his long-form birth certificate. The moment the truth came out, it made me wonder why it took so long for it to come out (although a two month delay for Logan’s account is much more reasonable than Obama’s stonewalling, imho). Those who believe we should not know the truth have the burden of explaining why it’s so damn important that we don’t. And I do accept many valid invocatons of secrecy. But our default should be transparency.
And certainly Ms. Logan thinks it is important, now, to tell the truth, so we can address this problem.
Hat tip: Dustin and Dana for sending this to me.
[Posted and authored by Aaron Worthing.]