Black is white and up is down


Cover of January, 1915 National Geographic Mag...

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I’ve just seen the Nic Robertson interview with Imam al-Obeidi, the Libyan woman who says she was gang raped by Qaddafi‘s thugs and I’ve got all these swirling emotions going on in my head that I have to put down on paper.First of all, I was more than a little put off by Robertson’s calm assertion that Obeidi seems to be healing physically rather well from her assault. Let’s remember she was held for several days and repeatedly raped and brutalized by several men only three short weeks ago, during the week of the 21st of March. If you believe as I that rape is a crime of violence, then platitudes about how well she’s doing are too paternalistic for my stomach. Yes, it’s amazing she’s gone on and done an interview with him, and she was very calm throughout it, but her ordeal is far from over as she stated, and her wounds are much deeper than Robertson could know.

His attitude reminds me of the National Geographic types who have no problem showing pictures of naked female aborigines or Africans while claiming to be sterile and clinical in their approach to female nudity but would recoil at the prospect of doing something similar with women from Western society because it’s simply not appropriate. Obeidi’s motives have also been rather suspect in the eyes of some…..even I have cast a sideways glance at her when her story first appeared. We have been bamboozled by people who claim to have been victims, in an attempt to get what some consider the correct foreign policy response, as a result of a pleading victim…in most cases a woman. The Kuwaiti kid who went before Congress to lie about babies and incubators and the the female military service members captured by the Iraqi Army in the beginnings of the last Iraqi campaign all come to mind. Even the Libyan government called into question its victim’s motives, calling her a drunk, a whore and every conceivable name we usually toss at women who are the victims of sexual assault…….especially those women we don’t like and think somehow deserved what they got. But it’s altogether conceivable that this is what it seems, a woman who was brutalized by a brutal dictator who’s been around for a very long time who is completely indifferent to the everyday life of his people. As far as Qaddafi and his supporters are concerned, Obeidi merely was in the wrong place at the wrong time, like countless others in Libya and if she doesn’t look after herself no one else will either, certainly not the leaders of Libya.

While I watched the interview at the hands of a condescending Robertson, I couldn’t help but think if that were Lara Logan, would his tone be any different? You remember Logan, don’t you, the television reporter who said she was raped while covering the Egyptian uprising in February. We wrote about her previously. Since returning to America and her family, Logan has been neither seen nor heard from and I don’t know of any efforts to secure an interview with her to get her side of her story of Tahrir Square. Rather, it seems the “story” of Logan’s rape is the news about Nir Rosen’s tweet that looked sideways at what happened to her and the employment ramifications for him that Logan’s claim of rape has been. Rosen has been hounded or had to resign from two different jobs as a result of reminding people that Logan has been a water carrier for America’s wars of empire in the Middle East AND for quite frankly minimizing her rape as a groping, which others have asserted is really what happened in the first place. So what we have is the National Geographic type attitude towards rape….we can be clinical and far removed enough from the ugliness of rape to conduct an interview with a Libyan rape victim, still kept apart from her family and support structure by  an oppressive dictator, and ask all the right questions because it’s in the interest of journalistic integrity…..questions we might never ask someone who looked like Lara Logan nor even dare assert we have the right to ask. In the end however, both women, al-Obeidi and Logan, are asking us to do the same thing; take a look at the people behind the violence that was committed against them. Unfortunately the supporters of both women have perverted that message and made it a political rather than a criminal message they aim to convey. At least Obaidi has been more honest about it than Logan. Obeidi has come out squarely against the Qaddafi regime and pointed, indirectly, a finger at him for who is responsible. Logan’s supporters, particularly those among the press have made their points too, but it has been a finger of aspersion at Arabs, Muslims, Egyptians, men…the baby and the bath water. This is what has made what happened to Logan disingenuous and cheapens and diminishes her. So maybe Robertson, CNN indeed Logan’s own network ought to insist with as much vigor as they can muster that she be interviewed on television too to provide her side of the story and remove all doubt. No one will insist that, and some may even castigate me for saying that they should. Meanwhile I applaud the courage of all women who stand up to their attackers and demand justice!

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