What About The Women? – The Politicization Of
The Assault On Lara Logan
By Akanksha Mehta
19 February, 2011
On February 11, 2011, a sustained and massive eighteen day mobilization and protest in Egypt, led to the resignation of Egypt’s autocratic President Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak’s reign, which continued for almost thirty years, was characterized by rampant poverty, unemployment, government corruption, and the presence of draconian emergency laws. His resignation prompted widespread celebrations across the country. On February 15, 2011, CBS News issued a statement that amidst the jubilations at Cairo’s Tahir Square, CBS reporter Lara Logan was surrounded and suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault. Logan was separated from her crew in the uncontrollable crowd and was assaulted and beaten before being rescued by a group of women and soldiers. While Logan herself remains in recovery, the announcement of her assault led to the generation of several insensitive comments that once again highlight the worrisome transformation of a woman’s body and sexual assault into a site of political and imperial rhetoric.
In addition to the expected comments that blamed Logan’s assault on her “blonde hair”, “attractive looks”, and “wandering into Tahrir Square”; shortly after CBS’s announcement, Nir Rosen, a freelance journalist and a fellow at New York University, known for his left-wing views, tweeted that Logan “had to outdo Anderson”, referring to CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who was attacked in Egypt. Continuing, calling retired General McCrystal her “buddy” and calling Logan a “war monger”, he commented "at a moment when she [Logan] is going to become a martyr and glorified we should at least remember her role as a major war monger." Meanwhile, conservative commentator Debbie Schlussel seized Logan’s assault as an opportunity to condemn and blame the entire Egyptian revolution and Islam for the act. Transforming Logan’s assaulted body into a discursive playground; she sarcastically suggested that the incident highlighted “how peaceful Muslims and Islam really are.” Saying that “Lara knew what the risks were and what Islam was like”, she [Schlussel] went on to elaborate how this would have “never happened to her or any other mainstream media reporter when Mubarak was allowed to treat his country of savages in the only way they can be controlled”.
While Rosen decided to pretty much overlook the actuality of Logan’s sexual assault (or worse find humor in it), and instead comment on her political and journalistic inclinations, Schlussel and the likes of her, as always, played the Islamophobia card around the “Gender issue”. Schlussel’s actual argument (if any at all) can be easily refuted- turns out women in Muslim majority countries and “liberated” Egypt are not the only ones getting assaulted. The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network reports that every two minutes a woman in the United States is sexually assaulted (that makes one in every six American women a victim of sexual assault), with only 6% of rapists spending a day in jail. Furthermore, the findings of a 2008 survey by the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights found that 83 percent of Egyptian women, while 62 percent of men admitted to harassing- all of this under Mubarak’s “control” of his “country of savages”.
However, what emerges from these comments is an addition to the worrisome pattern of building imperialistic, politicized (and/or nationalistic) discourses around women’s bodies. Discourses that strip them of agency, and inherently see them as victims in one of three categories- the helpless weak women of the ‘other’ who must need ‘rescuing’ from the “savages” that are their men; ‘our’ helpless women who were raped/assaulted by the male ‘other’; and the sympathizing line crosser who ‘deserved’ what she got from the ‘other’. Several nationalist movements frame their discourses around the ‘woman’s body.’ For instance, the Hindu Nationalist movement in India, at the time of its inception and for decades after, framed its discourse around the Hindu and Muslim woman’s body and its assault. Emphasizing on the ‘abduction and rape’ of the ‘chaste and helpless Hindu woman’ by the ‘Muslim other,’ nationalist discourse reduced the ‘Muslim male’ to a ‘lustful, polygamist, rapist’, while labeling the ‘Muslim woman’ as the ‘weak, exploited’ entity that must be ‘liberated’ from the clutches of the ‘oppressive male.’ Of course, acts of assault or abuse on Hindu women by Hindu men did not figure in this discourse. Neither did the presence of patriarchal structures within the Hindu Nationalist movement (while the discourse centered on women, women remained mostly absent from the actual movement until the late 1980s).
For years now, women have been the center of the so-called ‘debate on Islam’. Recently, the continuing fear mongering regarding the ‘rise of Islamists’ in Egypt’s protests is largely centered on the question of ‘what will happen to the Egyptian woman if Islamists come to power.’ Thus, having said all this, Schlussel’s comments are neither new nor unexpected. Neglecting the bigger and more important issues of safety of journalists and of women everywhere, as they do, what Schlussel’s (and Rosen’s) comments are is worrisome. The burial of women in politicized and imperialist discourses built around their bodies and veils, sidelines what actually matters (and should matter) - the rights and agency of the women themselves. As Master Mimz, an activist and rap artist in the UK says in her song “Back Down Mubarak”, “First give me a job-then lets talk about my hijab.”
Akanksha Mehta is an Associate Research Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) in Singapore. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and www.akankshamehta.com The views of the author are her known and do not represent the official position of RSIS, Singapore or any affiliated institutions.
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