Strauss-Kahn and the status of French women’s liberté and égalité

It has all the elements of a made for television show- power, assault, scandal. The victim a shy young woman and a good worker, struggling to making a living for herself cleaning hotel rooms in New York City. The perpetrator, Strauss-Kahn, the managing director of the International Monetory Fund, a ‘brilliant economist’.

Strauss-Kahn allegedly assaulted his victim and then left, so used to getting away with it that  he had the audacity to call back from the airport to find out if he had left his cell phone behind at the hotel.

Jeffrey Shapiro, lawyer for Mr Strauss-Kahn’s accuser, says his client feared for herself and her daughter when she discovered Mr Strauss-Kahn’s identity after the incident.

He said she had only become aware of Mr Strauss-Kahn’s identity “a day later when a friend called her to tell her, ‘do you have any idea who this man is who did this to you?'”. Mr Shapiro said his client was “scared and incredulous”.

“When she found out this encounter was with a man of great power and wealth she feared not only for herself but more importantly for her daughter.”The woman, from the West African nation of Guinea, had now been reunited with her 15-year-old daughter in a “safe place”, he added.She keeps crying every day, and it’s not good for her,” the accuser’s brother, a Harlem cafe manager, told the Daily News. “She just feels pain. She’s in shock.” [BBC]

Kahn of course denies his role in the attempted rape and has called it an attempt to ruin his political aspirations.

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“I think at this time first of my wife – whom I love more than anything – of my children, of my family, of my friends. I think also of my colleagues at the Fund.”

For the victim’s sake, I am relieved that when the IMF chief decided to (allegedly) sexually assault a woman he was in the United States of America, that is why he was put behind bars at Rikers Island and  treated like any alleged criminal would be treated. There are not many countries in the world, especially not France,  where a maid in a hotel with $3000 a night rooms, a housekeeper, a muhajjaba, a Muslim and an immigrant from an impoverished country, would have the same rights as a man running for President. The U.S. Justice system, for all its flaws and inconsistencies, is still  a standard that other countries can learn from. In France, politicians ” … enjoy a particular tolerance on this subject,” writes Libération editor Nicolas Demorand, “part of the shock [of his arrest] comes also from the unusual scene, until now unthinkable here: police arresting a top-level politician on a matter of morals.”

Strauss-Kahn’s Past and France’s Future

After Strauss-Kahn was elected managing director of the IMF, he was accused in 2008 of abusing his position by having an affair with a subordinate, the Hungarian economist Piroska Nagy. He was cleared but after the scandal became public, Aurélie Filippetti, a Socialist lawmaker, told the Swiss newspaper Le Temps that she had been the target of a “very heavy-handed, very emphatic seduction attempt” from Mr. Strauss-Kahn. “I now make sure I am never alone with him in a closed room.”  The paper also quoted a Parisian lawyer who said one of his clients met Mr. Strauss-Kahn for what she thought was a job interview but “ran away before things got out of hand.”  Tristan Banon, a French writer, is also pressing charges for an assault 9 years ago which was hushed up due to Strauss-Kahn’s political clout.

France has always fascinated me: a country known for fashion and cuisine, and whose very name is synonymous with romance is now rocked by this scandal.  After they banned the niqab, one wonders what the women of France are like, 80% of whom overwhelmingly poll to take the right to choose their clothing from their fellow countrywomen. This is the country where they have banned the niqab as a symbol of “otherness”- “The burqa is not a religious sign,” Mr Sarkozy said last year, but rather a “sign of subservience, a sign of debasement” of women.

This scandal has highlighted the real face of France. What is the status of the women in France-  How many presidents of the French Republic have been women?  How many women are there in the French parliament?  Less than one fifth.  The French cabinet has how many women in it?  Less than a 1/3.  What percent of French companies have women on their boards?  Less than 12 per cent.  The champions of women’s rights seem to be lagging way behind. In its current state, France’s human rights development for women appears to be no better than most less developed countries.  So when Jacques Myard, the French MP’s says that face veils wreck French “social order, which is common rules that we all accept as the basis of a common life in a nation – that’s equality of sex, this is freedom of responsibility,” it reeks of hypocrisy to me. According to him, a majority of French suffer discomfort over looking at someone with a face veil but apparently have little discomfort at ignoring the harassment suffered by women in their country.

Media coverage in France has pushed the perpetrator as the victim of conspiracy. Journalist Jean-Franois Kahn, no relation to Strauss-Kahn, denied rape had taken place and dismissed the affair as “troussage de domestique,” a phrase that evokes a master having non-consensual sex with a servant. A boys club runs French politics so much so that the United Nations Development Fund for Women reported that 13 developing countries in the sub-Saharan region, such as Rwanda, Uganda, and Mozambique- widely considered the poorest areas in the world- experienced higher percentages of female members of parliament than France.

Traditionally French women were seen as the property of their fathers before marriage of the property of their husbands after. They received the right  to vote  in 1944. Perhaps that is why there is such an aversion to the face veil in France- perhaps they don’t like to be reminded of their own poor understanding of woman or their very recent emancipation.

This is further championed by the “the institutional consequence for public niqab wearing: a €150 ($215 USD) fine or citizenship lessons for those caught violating the law. The assumption being that any Muslim woman wearing niqab isn’t well versed enough in what it means to be a “real” French citizen, and therefore needs instruction on how to properly be French. Clearly, outward displays of religiosity are not what “good” Frenchwomen do.

So what do ‘good’ French women do? Evidently look the other way as many of their politicians, leaders and CEOs sexually harass, manipulate and assault women. Except for French feminists, who are “stunned by the daily surge of misogynistic remarks by public figures, widely broadcast on our televisions, radios, in the workplace and on social networks…”.

“Equality of sex is absolutely now a constitutional principle, even in France – compared to Turkey – only granted vote in 1945, when Turkey granted vote, to French women, you know, in 1920s. The face veil then appeared for the huge majority of the French nation as a blow, a breach of common will, you know?  It has the sense of maintaining women in a minor status when men have all the rights and women not, because it starts with the veil but it continues with other aspects of this problem, and of course this is contrary to the dignity of a human person that we share altogether.”

French MP Jacques Myard at the Doha Debates. (full transcript here)

The  dignity of a human person: The French reaction

The following are some interesting excerpts from a recent debate on The New York Times asking whether French women were more ‘tolerant‘ of sexual misconduct from their powerful male peers.

“There are limits and rape is a serious crime. But in France we don’t want war between the sexes. French society is becoming more and more repressive; why should we add barriers between men and women like those that exist in U.S.? Everybody knows that in America a young boy is not allowed to touch a girl, and he risks condemnation if he does.”

Laurence Masurel, former political editor in chief of Paris Match.

“If you want to be part of that French elite, you have to tolerate a lot of things. And don’t complain, otherwise people will tell you : “It’s the way it works, didn’t you know that?” For some people, everything is a “rapport de force” (balance of power). Yes, there are laws to protect women, but everyone knows that in France, women are not not quite equal to men under the law, especially lower income women.”

-Corinne Maier, author of “Bonjour Laziness” and “No Kids: 40 Good Reasons Not to Have Children.”

“Some French women have accepted historical trade-offs: they ruled the home and were supported financially as well as in terms of status by men. And while France is the country of Simone de Beauvoir, it has been slow to embrace equal status for women. It is getting better, but you would not wish to work for a company in France — still an old-boys club — compared with America, where there is a much more legitimate march toward equality of the sexes. French women, all women, can say we don’t tolerate such behavior (and all of my French women friends don’t), but we do, and as a result we are victims. Even justice does not work in our favor.”

-Mireille Guiliano, author of “French Women Don’t Get Fat” and former executive at LVMH.

A Man’s Loyalty and a Muslim’s Dignity

"A picture is worth a thousand words: Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former IMF chief now accused of rape, first met Barack and Michelle Obama at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh in 2009. The resulting photo, uncovered by New York magazine, says it all." -The Daily Beast

What I find exasperating is the position of French women who think that Americans are prudes and they do not know sexual innuendo- Americans want to know that their politicians can control themselves- they believe that if a man cannot be loyal to his wife then he can not be loyal to his countrymen. Whereas in France, the affairs of powerful men are not spoken about. The French have something to learn from the American justice system- where we have the right to wear what we want, to practice our religion, the ability to report crimes regardless of social status. Perhaps this high-profile case could bring about a change for women in France as well, where men of power may actually face up to their crimes.

My prayers are with the victim of this incident- I hope she can continue a normal life- her private details will be paraded by the media, every aspect of her life will be scrutinized by lawyers- how she mothered, cooked, cleaned, spoke to, who she married, didn’t marry- why? Because she was cleaning the wrong man’s room at the wrong time. Her ethnicity, the color of her skin, her health will all be manipulated for the jury.

If nothing else, her story reminds us of the constant need to act like Muslims  every day of our lives and the importance of maintaining our Muslim identities- she was a good worker, she was shy, her demeanor was what a Muslim woman’s should be: dignified- so much so that  her coworkers could immediately tell that she had been victimized.  May Allah raise her levels in Jannah for all her suffering.  Ameen.

 

 

38 / View Comments

38 responses to “Strauss-Kahn and the status of French women’s liberté and égalité”

  1. BintKhalil says:

    Assalamu alaikum

    A piece about the misogynistic reaction of the French media to the alleged rape.

  2. Yasir Qadhi says:

    Salaam Alaikum

    This is a very good piece.

    Despite ALL the flaws of this country (and there are so many), credit is given where it is due. Forget about Europe, let’s be real here: what other Muslim land would this have happened in if a powerful prince or businessman did what this man did?

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn was one of the most influential and powerful men in the world. He thought he could get away with what he (allegedly) did. Or, as some are wryly saying, he thought he could do to a helpless woman with the IMF does to the world.

    Yet, this immigrant West African muhajjiba – a minority within a minority – was able to press charges and imprison him. A trial is pending, and it is highly unlikely that Strauss-Kahn will be able to pull any strings within the justice system for this case. Americans do not tolerate this type of harassment on their soil.

    There is a lot to learn from this incident…

    May Allah protect us all in this world and the next!

    Allahumma inna naudhu bika min khizy al-dunya wa adhaab al-akhira!!

    Yasir

    • Abu Sumaiyah says:

      Ya Shaykh, what do you mean by “Americans do not tolerate this type of harassment on their soil.”

      Have you ever heard about Gov. Arnold Swartzenegger?

      • BintKhalil says:

        The difference with Schwarzenegger is that it was consensual.

        • Abu Samaiyah says:

          Actaully, if you know anything about the Terminator you would know he has been accused of sexual harassment many times before when he was a body builder, actor, during the california recall, and even his own staffers accused him of gropping.

    • Nidal says:

      But I feel this is a straw-man argument. No one seriously says that Muslim countries or most countries in the developing world have a good justice system. Yes, we know they torture suspects, poor people, or those of unpopular minorities in police stations across Asia and Africa.

      The issue for people living in the US is not to try to make the justice system like that of Yemen or India. NO ONE, not even the crazies say that. The social issues we face here are mainly that we are all becoming completely used to everything from fisq to zina and are starting to be comfortable with it. DSK getting booked isn’t really relevant to most people other than the victim, and I am pretty confident that other than the intrusive media reporters trying to destroy her life, she will be given the protection of the law.

      The issues Muslims face in France are different, of course.

  3. Bobbynorwich says:

    No person regardless of status should be allowed to take advantage of another. Whether guilty or not, at least the American justice system was objective enough to bring DSK to trial.

  4. Subhanallah! It is amazing how Allah (swt) has unveiled through this one incident that women in niqab are merely scapegoats for the insecurities of French society and the injustice against women that exists there.
    Oppression always speaks volumes about the oppressor.
    Jazakallah Khayrun for an informative and insightful article.

  5. Rianaa says:

    This article is quite right in its tackling of the issue. What this lady is going through must been utterly difficult and challenging. And if justice in not done to her in this life (considering it is human made and thus not so reliable), I know divine justice will not forget her hardship and give her the justice she deserves.

    However, pointing negative cultural/social/political aspects of a country and people should also be done with self-criticism.

    “Traditionally French women were seen as the property of their fathers before marriage of the property of their husbands after. They received the right to vote in 1944. Perhaps that is why there is such an aversion to the face veil in France- perhaps they don’t like to be reminded of their own poor understanding of woman or their very recent emancipation.”

    Traditionally, and currently, for many Muslim culture, and in most Muslim countries, women are still considered to be a male’s property and voting is not a right that is often granted to them. Of course, the word property is not explicit, but it is quite clearly implied: when a woman’s freedom is extremely limited without a male guardian to decide her every moves, that says a lot about what ‘value’ is place upon a woman’s body and mind, the ‘value’ that is given to her independence, freedom, rights…

    This article actually says a lot also about the current state of mind of most Muslim countries and societies. French don’t like the burqa, cause they are reminded how similar they are to those whom they accuse of female oppression, subjugation and sexism in public and private sphere, and even go to war against on false pretext of women’s liberation.

    But, on this same website, Muslim Matters, I have found extensive articles dealing with all the sexual, intellectual, social and political oppression of Muslim women. Articles showing how the highest percentages of rapes and abuses toward women were found in Muslim societies. How Muslim women suffered and suffer from the violence, domination, arrogance, sexual brutality of men.

    As a French Muslim woman, I can tell you this: I’d rather live in France, work in France and raise my daughters in France, than any other country. It sure is not perfect, has a lot of flaws, discriminations on racial or sexist basis… but as a woman, my dignity is pretty much intact, not violated on a daily basis.

    May Allah swt spare any Muslim women, and women, from the violence and aggression of men wherever they are, whatever their skin colour, age, and nationality. May He protect Muslim women, and women, make them stronger and preserve their dignity, integrity, as human beings, as His creatures. Ameen.

  6. Amad says:

    Solid, solid peace! Another Monday feature post pushed out 2 days early :)

    Interesting juxtaposition of what would initially appear as completely unrelated issues

  7. Umme Maryam says:

    Proves once again why the laws of purdah are essential in a world full of predators.

    And, yes, salute to the US justice system for protecting its citizens.

  8. Bertrand says:

    I am French and I agree with most of what was written. Just a word on religiosity in France. Although there has been a lot of hypocrisy around religious display in France, seculiarism is important to French and everyone knows it by now. If I am a woman and if if it is important to me to wear my swimsuit on the street, then I do not immigrate to Saudi Arabia. If I live to enjoy the beach at night, then I do not move to counties of California where it is forbidden. Likewise, if I wear shoes in my house and if I am a guest in yours, then I have to accept to take them off or else I cannot go to your house.

    • someone says:

      what about freedom of expression and religion . what about liberty. France cant have it one way and then the other way around. Its the hypocrisy, that’s mind boggling. By banning the face veil and religious symbols, France is undermining the values the country was build on. You cant criticizes other countries imposing strict dress code on their populations and to then do the same on your own citizens and called liberty.
      Muslim matters has a whole series on that just search in the toolbar its very enlightening.

  9. Abu Sumaiyah says:

    I think I missed something. I have read about this issue a few times before on various news websites. Never did they say the womans name or religion. How did you come to the conclusion she was a Muslim? I could have missed something, but I never saw anything about this.

    Considering you asked Allah azza wa jal to raise her ranks in jannah you must have some information she is Muslim, right?

  10. ahlam says:

    Omg, the French disgust me from their nationalistic attitude to their immorality coupled with arrogance. Just look at how they defend him in the French papers too!

    May Allah help the Muslims who live there and help the woman who was assaulted recover.

  11. UmmOusama says:

    Assalamu alaikum,

    There are two things that bother me in this article:

    1. It appears to be an article where one culture is good and one culture is bad. Unless the writer has actually lived in France, then she is as much subject to “cliches” as thhe French are vis-a-vis the Americans.

    2. As it has been said in foreign media (I.e. Non-American), it seems DSK is guilty until proven innocent. Who can be sure of that? I have no sympathy at all for DSK, yet an impartial judge should put “sympathy” on the back seat when judging.let the justice run it’s course, then we can comment insha Allah. As for now, it is judging without knowledge.

  12. Leila says:

    The article conflates unrelated issues; sexual assault, the French legal system, niqab, the status of women in France, their attitude to DSK’s case and sex. Why “especially” in France would she have been treated unequally? Because they banned the niqab or is it that France’s legal system is unfair to minorities unlike that of USA?

    The French do not take interest in the consensual sexual affairs of politicians because they feel it is not their business and the strong privacy laws reflect their attitude. However it is offensive to suggest that French women are tolerant of sexual harrassment and assault. Their status also cannot be judged through employment figures only.

    The ability to report crime regardless of social status is something all countries should work towards, including America.

  13. The Poet says,
    “In the blink of an eye
    The Creator can bring about change
    So that the might he knew yesterday
    Is forgotten by all today.”

    This and other recent upheavels are signs to mankind of the power of Allah.
    Allah grant her justice.

    Yahya Ibrahim
    http://www.facebook.com/yahya.adel.ibrahim

  14. Carlos says:

    Yes, when compared with the rest of the world, the US justice system is something about which we usually can be proud, and thank you for acknowledging that.

    I am a little uncomfortable with the rush to judgment. Mr. Strauss-Kahn was a presidential contender. It is not outside the realm of possibility that someone is trying to frame him, as he claims. Right now, I am more likely to believe he sexually assaulted the victim, but the evidence has not yet been heard by a court, so I will withhold judgment, as should we all.

    I am also a little uncomfortable with some of the anti-French commentary. The burqa ban is a separate matter, and the French people should not be blamed for the criminal actions of one of their politicians. I voted for Bill Clinton and for John Edwards (when Edwards was John Kerry’s running mate), but I do not blame myself for their later infidelities against their wives. Actually, it is wrong for me to conflate marital infidelity with sexual assault. Sexual assault is criminal, and marital infidelity is not. Sexual assault is far more morally egregious than marital infidelity.

  15. Carlos says:

    Do you truly want to understand the French? If not, stop reading now.

    Still here? Okay, here is my personal theory . . .

    The French see themselves as the the heirs of a one of the world’s most notable cultures and histories. They are rightfully proud of their heritage. They like being French, and they want their children and grandchildren to continue the French traditions. They see Muslim immigration and demographic growth as a threat to French culture and government. Muslims’ tendency to be proudly nonconformist exacerbates these concerns. The calls of some for having a separate legal system raise even greater alarm bells. The French are not so much arrogant as they are afraid. Of course that does not justify them discriminating against minorities, but fearful people often do unreasonable things.

    This would also be helpful in understanding why the Swiss banned minarets, the Danes support cartoonists’ rights to caricature Muhammad, the Dutch are now more supportive of right wing parties, etc.

    Despite the 9/11 attacks, most Americans do not really fear Muslims overrunning their society or government. (They are more afraid of Mexicans doing that). Muslims are still kind of an alien thing for most Americans. They are still a very small minority, so they seem less threatening as a group. If the Muslim proportion of the American populace continues to grow, anti-Muslim sentiment might increase accordingly.

    If Muslims want to be more accepted in Western societies (or any societies outside the “Muslim World”), it would be a good idea for Muslims to reassure the natives of the things they have in common, such as their humanity, their respect for human life, their respect for law and order, equality under the law, their desire to provide promising futures for their children, their desire to live in peace with their neighbors and their desire to live their lives as they want, and not be be told, by others, how to live. Separation breeds suspicion and hate. As much as possible, people of different backgrounds have to try to build bridges rather than put-up walls. As much as possible, people need to be judged upon their individual merit, not upon the group to which they profess to belong. That is not inconsistent with staying true to one’s heritage or religion.

    • ahlam says:

      Proud of what ? their imperialism, their colonialist history? So sure they are of their superiority that they, to this day, make sure their culture and language still lives on in the countries they used to colonize. Something of a ego-boosting exercise.This has nothing to do with Muslim immigrants, they are just being French. Britain for example, has a very long history in imperalism , but they are much more tolerant and outwardly admit that they cannot impose their culture on others. The Burqa ban was simply a knee-jerk reaction,it reminds them of their failure in ”civilizing” North African Muslim countries and getting rid of their backward ways of living. ”They don’t like our culture” sob.

      If you look at those countries today, most people cannot speak proper Arabic.Their own language. Your language affects your identity. They have been ”brain-washed” that France is the way and so no surprise that many poor people migrate to France either via university scholarships or for a better jobs which often are low-end jobs. Even on the streets, in some of those countries,the magazines are in French and promote a foreign culture, how pathetic is that? Of course, the corrupt governments of those countries are to be blamed first and foremost for not providing their citizens with better standards of living.

    • Brother says:

      “Natives”, as in Native American? I’m sure you know what injustices were bought upon them by colonialism.

  16. Nahyan says:

    Great piece indeed.
    I read about the arrest and things, but didn’t know it was a Muslim sister.

    Jazakallahukhair.

  17. Sister says:

    Jazkillahu khairaan for an excellent article..Mashaallah.May Allah help my fellow sister …

  18. Riffat says:

    “In its current state, France’s human rights development for women appears to be no better than most less developed countries.”

    So places like Saudia Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc are golden champions of women’s rights?

    Without a doubt, this was a disgusting shameful incident (if proven), and should be exposed for what it is. But this article seems to paint (an unrealistic) picture of a society that is generally misogynistic and repressive (I apologize if I misconstrued the article’s message but that’s what it felt like to me) and that’s just not the case. There’s a lot of things wrong with France but I, as a Muslim woman, would choose to live there as opposed to many other Muslim countries. And I know numerous other Muslim women who share this sentiment. There are tragically millions of Muslim sisters raped in the “less developed” countries but they wouldn’t dare speak out for fear of public humilation, or worse. How many are protesting against that? As ugly as this incident was, at least there is a high likelihood that the perpetrator will be brought to justice. Which is more than I can say for a lot of other nations, many of whom are Islamic republics.

  19. Brother says:

    I don’t know much about French society, but it appears to me that they are pretty loose with regards to inter-gender relations and oppose formality/restraint. I personally can’t stand that kind of attitude. Nevertheless, I don’t think we should judge them based on what this IMF chief did. The Muslim world is not free of sexual harassment or rape; how often do the perpetrators(let alone someone of authority) for these types of crimes face punishment by the authorities there? Inshallah, may Allah give the sister who was victimized patience and justice.

  20. Sagal says:

    Apparently Dominique Strauss-Kahn has reportedly hired team of investigators, former spies and media advisers to fight back against charges he sexually assaulted a hotel chambermaid.

    DSK’ s high priced lawyers will do is dig into the background of the maid. Expect a complete character assassination. Be sure that the arena where all will happen is the media, leaking all sorts of rumours. Not so sure of the justice of the US when money talks. It is a battle between a rich, well connected man and a poor African Muslim lady. There is no such thing as equal justice for all when it comes to the well offs and not the well offs, not even in the great US.

    • Amad says:

      As we saw with the case of OJ Simpson, money does indeed have a major play in all of this.

      I won’t be surprised if the poor lady is “revealed” to be an undercover Al-Qaeda agent as well, a Muslim “stealth-terrorist” out to get a Zionist. Anything to prove the man with the money innocent. I say this somewhat tongue in cheek, but not totally :)

      May Allah ensure justice in this David v. Goliath judicial tussle.

      • Carlos says:

        I always felt bad for Goliath. He was just a brave soldier serving his country, and god assisted a young boy in killing him.

      • Jeremiah says:

        The verdict in the OJ case was affected more by bungling prosecutors and unethical police. Of course his financial status allowed him to hire a sufficiently skilled team. However, I do not think the verdict would have been the same if the case was handled differently regardless of OJ’s riches.

        InshAllah the sister in NY and all victims will get justice.

        • Nidal says:

          OJ was in a very small minority of black people who escaped the full punishment for assaulting a white person. Historically, black men were killed (see Williee McGee as a famous example) for things like an alleged remark at a white woman or for consensual affairs. So OJ is a very very bad example if you want to talk about powerful interests and the justice system.

    • Brother says:

      Well, if he goes that route, I hope it backfires into a hate crime.

  21. hassan says:

    Right.. America is best country on face of earth…

    http://www.gold-prices.biz/the-us-has-no-gold/

  22. tahre says:

    Kahn managed somehow put the credibility of the victim to be questioned – May Allah SWT help the sister:

    http://www.smh.com.au/world/cracks-appear-in-case-on-strausskahn-20110701-1gv0j.html

  23. Hassan says:

    One day after Christine Lagarde becomes the new IMF head, case against Strauss-Kahn is falling apart.

    So it was clear that establishment did not want him to be IMF head.

    http://www.gold-prices.biz/the-us-has-no-gold/

    American Justice system works when it wants to.

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