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.
“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
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.