I was alerted that Lara Logan had spoken out and that her interview would be aired soon after by a few of her admirers, in insulting e-mails they kindly sent me. I’ve been travelling from the Middle East to Colombia, and busy here doing my job. So only this morning (5 de Mayo day) I had a chance to watch the 60 Minutes show’s video titled “Lara Logan breaks her silence”. She’s breaking the silence rather late, months after her employer CBS issued a communiqué, allegedly based on Logan’s statements, about the assault she suffered at Cairo’s Tahrir’s sq. on February 11th.
The CBS described the event in terms which were both ambiguous and diferring from what I and others saw. This helped to spark a public debate in which many bigots felt justified in vilifying Egyptian and Muslim men in general, instead of those who actually assaulted Logan. From the CBS’s communiqué’s terms, they thought this celebrity reporter had been raped or even gang raped in public, in the most important square of Egypt, which was packed with people, without any civilian male willing to help her.
I’m a professional journalist concerned with the damage that misinformation or partial information can do. As such, it was my responsibility to tell what I saw and ask others about it, to help clarify the events. And I thought that Logan and/or the CBS would have an interest in dettaching themselves from the racist and sexist allegations that were finding basis –not factual evidence– in this communiqué. For that reason, I hoped, they would tell exactly what happened and dispel the rumours.
I was wrong. It seems they didn’t care. When CBS’s Scott Pelley asked Logan “Why are you telling this story now?”, she replied:
Logan: One thing that I am extremely proud of that I didn’t intend is when my female colleagues stood up and said that I’d broken the silence on what all of us have experienced but never talk about.
Pelley: What did they mean by that?
Logan: That women never complain about incidents of sexual violence because you don’t want someone to say, “Well women shouldn’t be out there.” But I think there are a lot of women who experience these kinds of things as journalists and they don’t want it to stop their job because they do it for the same reasons as me – they are committed to what they do. They are not adrenaline junkies you know, they’re not glory hounds, they do it because they believe in being journalists.
Ok, hate campaigns against other races and religions were no motivation for Logan to speak out. She’s in her own right not to care about it. But if that is the real reason why she’s talking now, she didn’t hurry to service the cause of fighting violence against women and violence against journalists.
For years, I’ve worked in conflict zones alongside brave female journalists from different countries. I never heard from them anything about keeping a code of silence in case they were raped. As women and as journalists, they know that the first thing you have to do when you suffer an aggression is to denounce it, to break the silence, to gather attention and point at the perpetrators to expose them publicly. Keeping quiet will just help them to get away with it and go for the next woman or journalist.
Take NYT’s photographer Lynsey Addario, who was captured and sexually harrassed along several days in March by Moammar Gaddafi’s men in Libya, and who spoke out immediately after her release.
And as women do, we journalists know that, in order to keep credibility and avoid falling into crying wolf situations, to really help to protect our colleagues and ourselves, we have to be very accurate and serious in our accounts. Ambiguity doesn’t correspond to that. Nor misportraying the facts.
So my hopes that she and the CBS would do their best to correct all mistakes were vain. Those Logan’s admirers who messagged me think her latest testimony proves me and my witnesses totally wrong (they put it in stronger words, of course). They’re naturally in their right to believe whatever they want to believe. You can have faith in anything you want.
BUT I BELIEVE MY EYES. AND MY WITNESSES’
Lara Logan went through a horrible experience. My initial reaction when this happened was to point out that attacks like that one had been occurring to others and that “I don’t think the leading organisers in Tahrir did anything to dispel the rumours spread by State TV, about foreigners and journalists plotting against Egypt and to manipulate the Revolution”. I recognised that “Individual protesters did a lot to help us when we were harassed by these paranoid vigilantes” but “there was no organised effort to explain the situation to the people in the square and make it safer for foreigners”. For this reasons, I wrote, “it seems a bit late to say sorry to Lara Logan. And there are others who should receive apologies for what they went through, but their names aren’t so well-known”.
Later on, my concern went to the way the CBS chose to present the story and its consequences as it gave ammunition to racist and sexist speech. Many bigots were happy to use it to describe Muslim and Egyptian men in unacceptable terms. Some also said Logan and any female journalist should stay away from difficult reporting tasks.
I wrote what I and other witnesses saw. Nothing else. In prudent terms for I hoped Logan and the CBS would be happy to take in consideration an account from direct witnesses and clarify what happened. I admitted the shortcomings of the piece: I couldn’t find anyone who could tell me what happened before I first saw her. But we got the story from that point till the end.
According to Logan, soon after the assault started…
“And I feel them tearing at my clothing. I think my shirt, my sweater was torn off completely. My shirt was around my neck. I felt the moment that my bra tore. They tore the metal clips of my bra. They tore those open. And I felt that because the air, I felt the air on my chest, on my skin. And I felt them tear out, they literally just tore my pants to shreds. And then I felt my underwear go. And I remember looking up, when my clothes gave way, I remember looking up and seeing them taking pictures with their cell phones, the flashes of their cell phone cameras.”
That’s horrible. I wish no woman in the world had to go through that. And I actually add action to my words as a journalist, having extensively reported on women’s rights and violence against women (including the most shocking rapes you can imagine) from many countries (Eastern D.R. of Congo, Lebanon, Syria, South Africa, Iran, India, Mexico and others; these issues are a leading concern in my three published books on Mexico, Iran, and Africa).
When I saw her, I perceived in her clothes little trace of what she describes. An uneven top, likely due to the harsh groping she doubtlessly suffered. Maybe it happened later, but…
My interviewees saw the same in her clothes. These are people who followed her and helped her until she was delivered to the soldiers. I narrated that already.
“And I almost fell into the lap of this woman on the ground who was head to toe in black, just her eyes, I remember just her eyes, I could see”.
“It was about their women and that was what saved me, I think. The women kind of closed ranks around me”.
“And I remember one or two, maybe three men standing with them and throwing, the women were throwing water in the crowd. And they were pouring water over me, ’cause I couldn’t breathe. You know I was I was rasping.”
“Finally some soldiers fought their way through the crowd with batons, beating the mob back”.
“That one soldier that I was holding onto, he threw me over his back and they still had to beat the mob back to get through it, back to the tank, where they had more soldiers.”
So, Logan stays in line with the story that she was saved by women and soldiers “who fought their way through”, though changing the CBS’s communiqué’s version by adding that men actually helped her too. So after all, not every Muslim and Egyptian man is a beast, as those racists have been yelling. Probably her real saviours (all of them young Egyptian men) should feel grateful for this final, limited acknowledgement.
My witnesses saw no women getting involved. I personally find it hard to believe that in such a frenzy, the wild male beasts she describes would have stopped just because a few of “their women”, as she puts it, “closed ranks” around the almost-naked sexy blonde woman who was in their raping hands. By the end of the interview, Logan states: “I had no idea how endemic that it is so rife, so widespread, that so many Egyptian men admit to sexual harassing women and think it’s completely acceptable. In fact, blame the women for it.” But according to her, it was the worst of these bestial men who let their precious pray go only because a few women threw water against them.
Also, my witnesses said no soldiers came out of their military post. It was young men –including two of my interviewees– who formed a protective human chain around her and took her to the military post. She was saved by physical force, not by some mystic liquid aura of “their women”.
Some people have dismissed my witnesses as random guys who could have said anything, and even participated in the attack.
I totally stand by my witnesses. I didn’t find them some other day, asking anyone were you there by chance, sir? I saw them right there, during the assault. I got to know well each one of them. I even got to know their sweet mothers and sisters when they invited me over for dinner. I know they are well-meant, honest, educated young men who participated in their revolution hoping to change their corrupt political system. The day after Mubarak fell, they were among those who gave us all a lesson of civism when they started cleaning and painting Tahrir square and Cairo’s downtown. They think kicking out a dictator was not enough, that in order to build a better Egypt everybody has to change atittudes and behave consciously as citizens.
They are kind, respectful and protective. They risked their own safety going into the crowd to save an unknown foreign woman. They don’t think all U.S. American people are blood-thirsty, inmoral invaders. In fact, I saw them honestly befriending and taking under their wing U.S. American journalists and travellers. They are Muslim, Egyptian men. Neither them nor their countrymen deserve to be insulted by racists, nor to be misportrayed by the fans of the person they helped to save.
For my Bostonian witness I stand as well. I met him early in the days of the uprising, a warmly-mannered young tourist who chose to leave aside his pleasure travels to be near the Egyptians as they fought for freedom.
Besides, I wasn’t the only international journalist who witnessed this. But I’m probably the only one who has absolutely nothing at stake here, as my professional field is away from the US media market and there is no way I can benefit or be damaged by this discussion. In this case, I’ve got a freedom of speech others can’t afford.
WHAT’S IN A RAPE
It was really terrible what they did to Lara Logan and I totally believe she thought she was going to die.
She also says: “All I could feel, was their hands raping me over and over and over again.”
Is this rape? It is, according to international definitions. LA Weekly discussed the issue and agreed that “The widest definition of rape in international law was provided by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which stated that rape consists of a physical invasion of a sexual nature, committed on a person under coercive circumstances. Sexual violence, including rape, is not limited to physical invasion of the human body and may include acts that do not involve penetration or even physical contact.”
That’s right. This a very important definition that helps us to fight the worst kind of violence against women in Africa, it is relevant far beyond what happened in Tahrir and I’m definitely not going to question it.
But it can be argued that there are different kinds of rape. “Hand raping” is not what they meant for rape when they denounced it as Muslim brutality (as if it wasn’t committed by Christians in U.S. cities everyday). They meant gang rape with forceful penus penetrations, perpetrated in the most important square of the country’s capital before hundreds of persons.
Let me go back to Lynsey Addario’s account of her own ordeal, one that (think what you want, this is obvious) was a lot more terrorising that Logan’s:
“One man grabbed her breasts – the start of a pattern of sexual harassment she endured over the ensuing 48 hours.
‘There was a lot of groping,’ she said. ‘Every man who came in contact with us basically felt every inch of my body short of what was under my clothes.’
As she was being driven away from Ajdabiya, she said another of her captors stroked her head and told her repeatedly that she was going to be killed.
‘He was caressing my head in this sick way, this tender way, saying, ‘You’re going to die tonight. You’re going to die tonight’, she added.”
Did Addario say she was raped by their hands? Does the fact that she didn’t use the R word make this less awful? Did she wait to give a detailed account until months after her female colleagues told her she’d broken the code of silence? And a bit on the sides, did she fly to the U.S. next morning and get her media company to annouce she’d been interned in a hospital for several days, and that she’d spend weeks off work recovering?
(That’s another curious thing: Did the CBS set up a private jet with medical attention to fly her back? Otherwise, an EgyptAir direct flight would put Logan in the US 12 hours after departure… but EgyptAir had suspended operations at the time and I can’t find other direct flights. So I found for her a British Airways flight that takes, minimum, 14 hours, changing planes in London, something awful for someone who allegedly required three…? or four days in hospital? It’s not clear when she was interned but reports put her out by the 16th.)
I think Addario’s account is what it should be: a concise, honests, sober and timely denounce of these men’s aggression. She is a real war reporter and possibly, she was freer to behave professionally as she’s not tied to the chains of being a media celebrity.
A CBS’S SECURITY FAILURE
I know that many of Logan’s fans are unhappy about my stance, but it is based on what we saw and none of us has reason to lie. I think that, if they so much love Logan, they are aiming at the wrong target. They should ask themselves, instead, how come this aggression could happen, after all?
I’ve already pointed at the protesters failures, in my first post on this issue. But there were important failures on the part of the CBS, as well.
There is a very important rule all journalists in difficult grounds know: be discreet. And this is doubly meaningful for women working in dangerous environments, be it a New York dead alley or a Middle Eastern war zone.
My female colleagues do amazing jobs when they’re reporting in conflict areas. This is just obvious but needs to be stated only because Logan’s admirers might accuse me of thinking the opposite. Anyway, female journalists in conflict zones naturally tend to protect themselves. Specially those who, like me, work independently and have no big budgets, no crews preparing the ground for them, no fixers explaining the situation to them, moving them around and providing them with the right contacts, no bodyguards, no drivers. But even those who are supported by all this machinery prefer to keep a low profile. When in Rome do as Romans do and almost every female journalist I’ve seen reporting from the Middle East wouldn’t go out to work dressed to kill.
What kind of environment was Logan getting into?
It was a badly lit, densely-packed area.
An uncontrolled crowd was celebrating a historic victory, just like after a World Cup final match.
Many of these people may not have been your regular protester, but hooligan types who decided to join the party.
There was a real danger of Mubarak infiltrators trying to spoil everything.
We all journalists were aware of this. Logan had little experience of Tahrir but at least her bosses and companions should have known.
So if the show must go on (this is celebrity TV, at the end), and the CBS reporter really, really had to get into all this in her most attractive looks, and if they believed Egyptian and Muslim men were all sexual beasts, why didn’t the CBS take every measure to protect her? How was she so easily separated from her crew? How come the CBS exposed her star figure to mob violence and rape?
“I have one arm on Ray. I’ve lost the fixer, I’ve lost the drivers. I’ve lost everybody except him. And I feel them tearing at my clothing.”
“When I lost Ray, I thought that was the end. It was like all the adrenaline left my body. ‘Cause I knew in his face when he lost me, he thought I was gonna die”.
Shocking. I believe her. And I feel her fear because I’ve been in situations where you feel strange mobs are going to kill you (contrary to some Dan Abrams who’s riskiest task –Wikipedia says— was reporting from a Holland’s court house but who dares to call me a “yellow journalist” from his comfy desk). I know well how it is to feel you’re going to die, in a far-away country, by the hands of people whose language you don’t even understand. Lara Logan didn’t need to go through a real experience of threat-to-life in conflict. This could have been prevented if the CBS had taken the situation more seriously.
I believe that our professionalism as journalists will help to pave the way to understanding between peoples. That is, the way to peace.
I believe that correct and precise accounts of aggressions against women and against journalists are neccesary if we want to effectively fight them.
I expressed my hope that the attack against Logan would help Egyptians to spark a positive debate (as opposed to a negative debate full of bigotry) about violence against women and machismo.
This won’t happen, though, if Muslim and Egyptian bigots (who do exist too, of course, no less than in the U.S.) are able to dismiss denounces of rape and violence against women as Western fabrications. This is a very delicate matter, of course. So let’s give it the serious treatment it deserves.
PS: Some of my newly-gained haters have tried to dismiss my account as given by a nobody. That shouldn’t be a problem, what matters is the content. But anyway, why should I expect them to know my work? They don’t read in languages other than English, do they? And they obviously don’t read too much, they get their information from the TV and five minutes of international news in the night show gives them all they always wanted to know about the big big world. Plus Dan Abrams’ celebrity blogs, of course.
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