Friday, April 29, 2011

Godspeed, Ms. Logan

In today's New York Times, CBS News Reporter Lara Logan discusses her sexual assault at the hands of a mob in Cairo's Tahir Square the night Hosni Mubarak's government fell.

I'm not comfortable posting excerpts from the story concerning the details of assault itself.  Anyone who's interested can go read the Times' piece.  But I did want to point out a few things.

First, I've known women who have been raped or sexualy assaulted.  It is normally extremely difficult for them to discuss the matter, even privately.  As a male, I cannot comprehend what they go through in such obviously horrific experiences.  The vast majority of men cannot.  From what I have observed (and nothing more than that) it takes an incredible amount of strength and courage to discuss it at all, even privately.  For a public figure such as Ms. Logan, to have been a victim of such a high-profile assault, the difficulties must be exponentially worse.

And yet Ms. Logan overcame all of that to speak out.  Why?  To call attention to the abuse women in the Muslim world face, including women journalists:
After being rescued by a group of civilians and Egyptian soldiers, she was swiftly flown back to the United States. “She was quite traumatized, as you can imagine, for a period of time,” Mr. Fager said. Ms. Logan said she decided almost immediately that she would speak out about sexual violence both on behalf of other journalists and on behalf of “millions of voiceless women who are subjected to attacks like this and worse.”

More than a dozen journalists have been detained in Libya in the past two months, including four who were working for The Times. One of the Times journalists, Lynsey Addario, said she was repeatedly groped and harassed by her Libyan captors.

For Ms. Logan, learning about Ms. Addario’s experience was a “setback” in her recovery. 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. “The very nature of what we do — communicating information — is what’s undoing these regimes,” she said. “It makes us the enemy, whether we like it or not.”

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.”
The brutal treatment of women in the Muslim world is indeed underreported, as is their second-class status.  Hopefully this will spur a badly needed change.  Which brings me to my second point.

I've seen some criticism directed towards Ms. Logan along the lines of "she knew what she was getting into" when she took the assignment, and therefore she should not be surprised when this entirely male mob acted in such a fashion.  To be perfectly clear, none of the criticism that I've seen is intended to justify the assault, only that these are there risks for women reporting from certain parts of the Muslim world.  The inference that I've made from such statements (and maybe I'm wrong) is that women journalists should therefore not be reporting from those areas.

Certainly, that would result in a significantly reduced chance of assault against these women, which is a good thing.  But, I would ask, at what price?

Such a practice could be legitimately called "creeping Shar'ia."  Certain societies treat women as second-class citizens (or worse), often under the medieval Islamic Shar'ia law.  Those same societies are also often the scenes for wars and other various conflicts, which make for major news stories that could make a journalist's career.   Restricting coverage of those news events to men, even if it is out of the noble motive of protecting the safety of women journalists, denies them opportunities for career advancement and effectively reduces them to second-class status.  Just like Shar'ia law.

Once again, whatever euphemism we may use to deny it (such as "sensitivity," "tolerance," etc.), threats from elements in the Muslim world would result in our complying with Shar'ia law.

Is that what we want?

My answer would be, no.  In fact, women journalists reporting from the Muslim world can be an important statement that we do not and will not submit to the barbaric, hellish Shar'ia law.  They should be able to cover events in those areas if they so choose, just like any male journalist.

So, to Ms. Logan, thoughts and prayers are with you.  May the incredible courage you have shown so far in surviving such an ordeal and discussing it continue to lead you to a full recovery, both physically and emotionally.  And may you find peace and fulfillment in further pursuit of your news career.

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