Thursday, February 17, 2011

Terror and Savagery in Cairo

Presidents are in the business of creating narratives that make them look like they are in charge and that all is well. Almost always, they portray themselves as accomplished, competent, and, dare I say, presidential.

Thus, Barack Obama, commenting on the events in Cairo in his February 15 press conference, gave himself high grades for his handling of the crisis in Egypt: “And at each juncture I think we calibrated it just about right. And I would suggest that part of the test is that what we ended up seeing was a peaceful transition, relatively little violence, and relatively little, if any, anti-American sentiment, or anti-Israel sentiment, or anti-Western sentiment. And I think that testifies the fact that in a complicated situation, we got it about right.”

Oh, really. Now let’s try to explain that to Lara Logan.

Logan was sexually assaulted by a mob that knew that she was an American journalist; the mob was yelling out and treating her as though she were a Jew. If that does not represent anti-American, anti-Israeli, and anti-democratic sentiment, I wouldn't want to imagine what does.

It is inaccurate to see this as “only” a horrifying criminal act; it was also a political statement. The mob was saying something to the world, and what it was saying contradicts Obama’s optimistic narrative about a "peaceful transition."

What motivated the protests in Tahrir Square? Perhaps it was a desire for freedom and dignity. But there was also a full expression of raw hatred. The mob hated Americans, hated Jews, and hated women. Does this feel like the dawning of an era that we should welcome?

After all, Hosni Mubarak was an American ally; he had sustained a peace treaty with Israel; and he had outlawed female genital mutilation.

One cannot ignore the fact that those who were rising up against Mubarak were also expressing hatred for what he stood for and for the allies he had defended.

It is normal not to want to look at or even imagine what happened to Lara Logan. Surely, it was an act of exceptional savagery, and, when faced with such actions, we normally look away. But that does not excuse us from the need to try to grasp the act as a cultural statement.

As the story is now being told, Logan was separated from her security by a mob, was violently assaulted for 20 to 30 minutes, and was then rescued by a group of Egyptian woman and Army soldiers.

Look at this a little more closely. Reports suggest that Logan was attacked by a group of 200 men.

This means that it was not just a dozen or so gang members. The group coalesced and organized spontaneously to express their rage against an American woman journalist, one whom they thought was Jewish.

To the mob, Lara Logan represented everything that it hated about the Mubarak regime.

Tragically, violent sexual assault against women has always been a weapon of war. What distinguishes the men who assaulted Logan was that they did it in a public square, knowing that the news would be published far and wide.

They were not trying to hide their crimes. They were not worried about being punished. In truth, they were proud of what they did; they were making violent sexual assault into a political statement, one that they wanted the world to hear.

They were not just commiting an act of savagery; they were committing an act of terrorism.

I may be uninformed, but I do not recall another mass public demonstration where a woman has been subjected to a violent sexual assault in public.

Of course, Barack Obama said yesterday that he wants the perpetrators to be brought to justice. If Obama sees it as a matter of justice, then, as I see it, that increases the chances that he is talking about an act of terrorism.

Clearly, the reality of what happened to Lara Logan is beyond what any of us want to imagine. Yet, we gain nothing when we cover it all up by saying that it was a victory for feminism. So says Rachel Larimore when she explains that since Egyptian women accompanied Egyptian troops to rescue Logan, that the future looks brighter for Egyptian women.

Larimore wants to see it through the prism of a rescue narrative, but, reality suggests that rescue, such as it was, was too little too late.

Stop for a moment and contemplate the monstrous fact that it took between 20 and 30 minutes to break through the mob. And that assumes that the women and soldiers in the square tried to reach Logan immediately.

It's possible that they were too afraid to attack the mob. It is also possible that after 20 or 30 minutes the mob started breaking up, thus making rescue possible.

As horrifying as it is to contemplate, we must recognize that 20 to 30 minutes is an extremely long time to be subjected to a violent sexual assault. Calling it savagery seems to me to be the minimum.

We are not talking about an act that took a couple of seconds or a couple of minutes. That would have been sufficiently gruesome in and of itself. But 20 to 30 minutes is an eternity.

If you are still tempted to believe Obama’s rosy scenario about what happened in Cairo, and if you want to classify the assault on Lara Logan as an extreme form of a crime that is committed every day, then I would recommend that you read Lloyd Grove’s interview with wealthy and influential Egyptian businessman, Shafik Gabr. Link here.

As the world’s attention shifts to Bahrain and Libya, Gabr reports that Egypt is verging on anarchy and that foreign terrorists from Hamas and Hezbollah have entered the country and are trying to use the turmoil to advance their own goals.

Grove reports his interview with Gabr: “’There was a serious plan to scare the populace, no question about it,’ he [Gabr] said. ‘There was a huge number of police stations that were torched all at the same time, all in the same manner. I cannot attribute it to any party. I can say very honestly that there were factors playing a major role beyond the youths in Tahrir Square, to torch, attack, break cells in the prisons for prisoners to be released, to steal police uniforms, to steal armaments, in the very same exact manner across Egypt, not just Cairo. And that requires planning. It’s almost like one of those movies where you have sleeper cells.’”

Do you still believe that we are watching a peaceful transition with relatively little violence?


David Foster said...

A group of Egyptians identified by USA Today as "the top leaders of the protest movement that toppled the regime of Hosni Mubarak" has demanded that Egypt **cut of natural gas shipments to Israel.** They refer to Israel as the "Zionist entity."

Given the confusion in Cairo, I'm not sure anyone really knows who THE top leaders of the movement are, but the fact that ANY top movement leaders are taking this position is disturbing enough.

Anonymous said...

TO: All
RE: Not....

Do you still believe that we are watching a peaceful transition with relatively little violence? -- Stuart Schneiderman


Rather, I see it as another piece of a 'puzzle' I've been trying to understand for the last 21 years falling into its proper place. A puzzle I started contemplating the day I heard a PBS special narrator introduce a program with the words....

Chernobyl. Wormwood. That star of apocalyptic import.

Research and talking to an Ukrainian emigre proved the truth of the translation from Ukrainian to English. The town is named from of old for the most commonly found flora in the region. A form of wormwood.


[Gird up you loins. The 'fun' is going to just keep on coming on. And at an accelerating pace.]

Dennis said...

We are allowing what would be a despicable act in this country to cloud our ability to see the big picture. One wonders about the competence of a President who seems incapable of seeing the larger ramifications of actions that take place in the world. It is almost as if the administration wants to gloss over what is one of it's prime responsibilities to engross themselves in domestic policy.
The "Mary had a little lamb" philosophy of "Leave them alone and they will come home" does not usually work out well.
Constructive engagement means just that on both foreign and domestic policy. It is some what like paying so much attention to form that one misses the substance.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I agree with you, Dennis. The administration does not seem to be capable of managing the situation abroad. One almost gets the feeling that it thinks that violent rebellion is a good thing and that it will somehow lead to democracy. It almost feels like we have a bunch of college students cheering on anything that resembles the Revolution.

It does not seem to distinguish between attacks on Qaddafi and those against the leader of Bahrain. And it does not seem to appreciate well enough that Iran is fomenting violence in Bahrain... which is not only geopolitically crucial but which is the base for our fifth fleet.

Anonymous said...

TO: Dr. Schneiderman
RE: Both 'Right' and 'Wrong'

One almost gets the feeling that it thinks that violent rebellion is a good thing and that it will somehow lead to democracy. -- Stuart Schneiderman

You're 'right' in this administration sees violent rebellion as a 'good thing'.

You're 'wrong' in that this administration sees it leading to 'democracy'. It is hoping for something markedly 'different'.

Three guesses....first two don't count....


[The Truth will out....]

Susan said...

Yours was the most insightful post on Lara Logan I have found to date, with the possible exception of Caroline Glick's stellar piece published today on her website and in the Jerusalem post. Like yours, it is a must-read.

Her website is