Last month, CBS correspondent Lara Logan was gang-raped while in Tahrir Square covering the Egyptian Revolution. Old news: probably everyone who isn't living in a cave (which means YOU, Osama!) has heard all the horrible details. Logan was deliberately separated from her camera crew and then she was stripped, sexually brutalized and severely beaten by a mob. She was rescued by Egyptian civilians and soldiers and is now in the US recovering.
As disgusting as that experience was, the tragedy was immediately compounded by world reaction.
Apparently, some heartless bloggers publicly suggested that Logan got what she deserved: that she "asked for it" by thinking she could move through crowds of rowdy Egyptians with impunity, and that she was merely a victim of her own stupidity.
But soon these voices were drowned out by even louder declarations that only bigots would associate the attack on Logan with the climate of misogyny that is so rampant in the Muslim world.
Weirdly, sometimes these opposing perspectives appeared in the SAME newspaper on the SAME day.
On 25 February 2011, the Chicago Tribune carried an opinion piece by Leonard Pitts--who I normally like. His article was called "There's always room for hate and ignorance.". His main point is well-taken: for any rape victim, appropriate responses would be expressions of support and sympathy.
And he's right. But then Pitts takes umbrage at a blogger who dared to mention Islam in the context of Logan's rape.
That blogger was also right.
Women who live in Muslim countries--even "moderate" Muslim countries like Indonesia--are second-class citizens. It's fine to say that they have the vote in most (not all) of those places, and that the Prophet loved women so much he married a number of them concurrently.
But the fact is that women are often no more than sex objects. Women are commonly assaulted, but rarely report rapes because they are then often charged with adultery and punished with canings or lashings. (Sometimes these punishments are fatal.) Women are also arrested and beaten for appearing too "provocatively" dressed....like when they let a man catch an alluring glimpse of an ankle. In places like Afghanistan, women are often hit by cars when they step into traffic--which they can't see because the burqa covers every inch of them except for an eye slit, which is screened with mesh.
Regarding Egypt, the Trib ran a feature the same day as the Pitts column: this one called "In Egypt, women endure daily abuse." (It's archived so I don't have the link.) The writers discuss how sexual assualts are becoming MORE of a problem in the current Egyptian climate. It sounds like the method of Logan's attack is pretty common: men in a crowd cull the woman from her friends--often male friends--and then have at her until they are forced off.
Pitts points out that we in the US are no strangers to sex crimes: one out of every six American women has been subjected to assault or attempted assault. So who are we to point fingers, right? But in the feature article about Egypt, the writers cite a sex assault figure closer to 85% for Egyptian women. I'm no mathematician, but......
Strangely, two-thirds of attacks are on women wearing traditional hijab--perhaps they are perceived as more docile, and less willing to resist.
Still, it's evidence of bigotry to suggest a correlation between Islam and the subjegation of women.
Never mind that the Qur'an specifically states that a woman has no right of refusal if her husband wants to have sexual relations with her--no matter when. (Actually, what it says is that he's a plow and can go into his fields whenever he wants.) In other words, as soon as you marry, you lose your right to have consensual sex. Too bad if you just gave birth yesterday!
Then we have the hadith that describes when and how it's permissable for men to enjoy the fruits of their battle conquests (after they kill the husbands). Unless you count the hadith that advises letting the husbands watch their wives get raped, to further humiliate them. Although if you're taking the women as slaves, and you're raping them first, you may want to consult the hadith that explains how to prevent pregnancy during rape so that her slave price doesn't drop.
(Note to everyone who lives in states trying to block sharia despite being told that sharia is no big deal because it's just about money lending: The above rules are applied under sharia.)
The State Department is advising women to refrain from going anywhere in Egypt without a male escort, and to exercise caution even with your chaperone. This is the same sort of insight they give to women travelling in other parts of Dar al-Islam.
Lara Logan's ordeal was terrible, for her and her family, and I wish her the best.
But pretending Islam had nothing to do with what happened to her is stupid. Instead of demeaning her, I think mentioning Islam, and its sexual mores, IS something Logan deserves. If it brings attention to behavior that is tolerated, or excused, by people who identify themselves as conservative Muslims, then we should be able to acknowldege that this is a part of Islam. We are too quick to shy away from saying anything uncomfortable about Islam because we may appear offesive.
Well, rape is offensive.
Lara Logan did put herself at risk when she accepted her assignment to cover the revolution. She certainly had every right to pursue the story even though she was, I think, well aware that Egyptian society isn't as open and tolerant as most Western countries are. That doesn't mean she "asked for" what happened to her, but she did understand that it was a potentially dangerous situation.
Lara Logan didn't deserve to get assaulted, but I bet she isn't surprised it happened.
We must keep a close eye on how women's human rights play out in Egypt. If the Muslim Brotherhood and their ilk assume leadership positions--which I think they will, the minute free elections are held--women and girls may only be able to survive if they accept living under lock and key, completely controlled by the men in their households. Of course, a la the Taliban, they won't have any civil liberties or access to healthcare, jobs or schools, but they will be under "protection"....for their own good.
There's an example that Statistics 101 professors always use to illustrate that assigning causality to data can sometimes lead to false conclusions: incidents of rape rise in the summer months, and so does ice cream consumption. But ice cream doesn't cause rapes.
In the case of Egypt's women, I think we can and should discuss the religiocultural climate of the country. The Muslim Brotherhood is on the prowl, and conservatism with its rigid gender roles is on the rise.
It looks like ice cream sales in Egypt are about to go WAY up.