Here there be monsters: Lara Logan and the madness of crowds

Demonstrators protest the regime of Hosni Mubarak in Tahrir Square, Cairo   

Demonstrators protest the regime of Hosni Mubarak in Tahrir Square, Cairo


As more sickening details emerge in the Arab media—including mobile phone videos etc.—of what actually happened to CBS reporter Lara Logan in Tahrir Square February 13 the rhetoric on the left/right divide shows no signs of abating. Some bay that it was ‘pro-Mubarak’ thugs who sexually assaulted (mounting evidence points to gang rape) and almost killed the 39-year-old mother of two, while others point the finger at ‘pro-liberation’ hooligans, Muslim fanatics or ‘liberal’ revellers. Such distinctions however, have nothing whatsoever to do with the reason why Logan was attacked and in fact obscures the real issue. The simple fact is that the gang of men who attacked Logan did so because they wanted to and could. Not only was she blonde and western (Logan was born in South Africa) but she was an independent, seasoned reporter at the top of her game in a country where females are still regarded as third-class citizens. Once separated from her team (some Arab sources claimed a burly bearded man pulled her away by her hair) she was a lone woman in an ocean of men.

She had transgressed into the public space (which in Egypt is the male space) and had to be humiliated and subjugated for her temerity. Pro-Mubarak or anti-Mubarak (evidence now suggests that it was the celebrants who assaulted her) doesn’t matter. The attack was motivated by something far more primal: the desire to put an independent woman “in her place”—i.e. on her back—and subject her to the most humiliating, abusive sexual attack imaginable.

A global scourge

Logan—along with many millions of women, girls and little boys—was not a casualty of right versus left, pro- or anti –Mubarak forces but of male sexual impunity. Muslim, non-Muslim, right wing or left, makes no difference. She was a victim of opportunity: the object of a toxic conflation of hatred, jubilation and male sexual aggression.

It was a group of men who knew they could get away with it who abused Lara Logan—as occurs all over the world, in every single culture and among every socio-economic bracket with victims who are both very young, very old and every single age in between. It is the elephant in the room that has nothing to do with how a woman is dressed (are the thousands of babies raped every year in South Africa dress inappropriately?[1]) how old she is, or what religion or political creed she belongs to.

These are merely the rationale and not the reason. Men who rape do so because they can and are more likely to engage in acts of sexual violence when they know they will face no legal or moral censure. In countries as diverse as DR Congo, Egypt, Guatemala, Haiti and South Africa rape rates are astronomical because the status of women is so low that there exists virtually no legal redress when their bodies and rights are violated on a mass scale.

A 2009 Demographic Health Survey study undertaken in South Africa[2] for example, showed that fully one quarter of all men surveyed admitted to taking part in gang rape. Haiti is another country that has always been bedevilled by high rates of sexual violence that, since the earthquake, have skyrocketed owing to the fact that so many millions of women and girls are now homeless and living in tent cities with no security and no redress.[3] In Mexico, Guatemala and other Central American nations so prevalent is the rape and murder of women that is now known as ‘femicidio’ —femicide.[4]

The prevalence of rape and concomitant attitudes that blame the victim is not only found among impoverished sub-Saharan African anocracies or repressed Muslim mobs. A 1993 survey undertaken in the US among young college educated men showed that fully 38 per cent of those polled said they would rape if they could get away with it. Last spring in Vancouver Canada, a gang of young ravers drugged and raped a young woman and then splashed the images all over Facebook.[5] Like Logan, she too was ridiculed and humiliated following the incident by women and men alike.

The beast within

In other words, what happens to women and girls in war zones and what happened to Logan also occurs everywhere in every country and in every neighborhood all over the world. The wholesale sexual abuse of women and girls however, is far more likely to occur when civil society breaks down and in societies characterized by lawlessness and gender discrimination.

In his book, “The Beast Within: Why men are violent” Canadian criminologist Neil Boyd argues that a combination of genetic predisposition, societal acceptance of gender-based violence and the percentage of young men to females in a population predicts to what degree violence will permeate a given society.[6]

His research is corroborated by the World Bank’s year 2000 seminal study, The Devil in the Demographics: The effect of youth bulges on domestic armed conflict[7] which contends that higher rates of state and non-state armed violence and criminality correspond to higher proportions of young disenfranchised young men. Leading conflict researcher Valerie Hudson goes one step further and notes that high levels of gender inequality correspond to high birth rates, high degrees of sex selective abortion and thus higher percentages of disenfranchised young men which in turn lead to high levels of state and non-state bellicosity.[8]

On a geopolitical level, Hudson’s research has found that states with higher levels of violence against women are also less peaceful internationally. Indeed, violence against women is a better predictor of bellicosity than level of democracy, level of wealth, or presence of Islamic civilization. In a 2010 study, Valerie, along with Brad Thayer, also found high levels of gender inequality to be a strong aggravating factor in the development of Islamic suicide terrorism. So far as Egypt is concerned, the assault on Logan offers a sobering glimpse of what may lie ahead. Already Egyptian human rights groups are raising the alarm that not a single female expert has been included in the country’s new Constitutional Committee—despite the fact that Egypt has many perfectly qualified legislators and jurists.[9] The committee is now hammering out a new constitution but not a single female has been brought in to represent the aspirations of one half of that country’s population. Not a single female voice will be lifted to voice concern over the fact that 98 per cent of all Egyptian women surveyed say they are the victims of ongoing and relentless sexual harassment and that those who seek redress are blamed for their own assault while perpetrators go free.

So what to do? Firstly, it is up to international partners to hold the nascent democracies of the Middle East and North Africa accountable for treaty obligations under the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security.

Egypt signed CEDAW (with reservations however) and that means that it has committed to passing whatever legislation is necessary to implement the wide-ranging principles of gender equality enshrined in that treaty. This includes taking measures to ensure that women enjoy the same basic human rights and fundamental freedoms as men, having in place legal and judicial procedures to protect the rights of women, taking measures to eliminate sexist discrimination, and lastly, submitting national reports every four years to a U.N. advisory group of international experts, the CEDAW Committee, to ensure transparency on what measures the country has taken to implement the treaty's provisions.

Uniquely vulnerable

After Egypt presented its periodic report to the CEDAW Committee in 2010, the experts recommended that the government address inadequate family planning services, insufficient public information on maternal mortality and morbidity, and deficient adolescent sexual and reproductive health services. In particular, the Committee urged the Egyptian government to tackle the failure to protect women from sexual violence.[10]

Secondly, unanimously adopted in 2000, UNSC 1325 marked the first time the Security Council recognized the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women and stressed the importance of their equal and full participation as active agents in peace and security.

Although not yet in the grips of a civil conflict, Egypt is uniquely vulnerable to non-state armed violence as it transitions from autocracy to democracy owing to its high proportion of young people, high levels of gender inequality and poverty. Thus, Egyptian law makers would be wise to heed the provisions in 1325 and include women in all aspects of nation building including implementing those provisions relating to security and family law.

Thirdly, but most importantly, it is up to Egyptian men and women to ensure that the perpetrators of gender-based violence are prosecuted, tried and convicted and that new laws reflect the fact that one half of the population is female—that their needs and aspirations be codified not only in terms of political and judicial representation, but also in laws that enshrine their equal rights to security and non-discrimination. Men who rape do so because they can. And such individuals—whether alone or in a mob—will continue to do so unless men who do not rape (the majority) support women in the fight against gender-based violence and the wholesale violation of their human rights.

This in turn will have a critical impact on peace and development because without security women will be unable to participate as full citizens in the nation building process, as legislators, workers and professionals of all stripes. And, as numerous studies attest, not only is gender equality a necessary precondition of peace and security, but it is the most important predictor of future prosperity.

Unless Logan’s assailants are captured and prosecuted to the full extent of the law it will send a chilling message to every woman in every corner of the Muslim world.

And that message is this: Leave your homes at your own peril. Democracy is only for men.

End notes