The story of Lara Logan is first and foremost a personal tragedy. A decent woman, a South African by birth, an American by adoption, trying to do her job as a television journalist, is cheering for the street rebels in Egypt to unseat the old order. Suddenly the disorder becomes the occasion for her sexual victimization at the hands of the wanton mob.
It is terribly sad that this happened and terribly fortunate that she survived with her health and most of her dignity. Still, in a way the more profound tragedy is the naïveté she brought to that scene. Here is Logan’s assessment, in her own words, of what she knew about Egyptian society before her ordeal and what she discovered afterward, as rendered by the New York Times:
Before the assault, Ms. Logan said, she did not know about the levels of harassment and abuse that women in Egypt and other countries regularly experienced. “I would have paid more attention to it if I had had any sense of it,” she said. “When women are harassed and subjected to this in society, they’re denied an equal place in that society. Public spaces don’t belong to them. Men control it. It reaffirms the oppressive role of men in the society.”
This is worth pondering for a long moment. We are not talking about a blithe tourist who was gulled by the shiny brochure, surprised at the brackish water coming from the hotel faucet. This is a woman whose job is world news, working at a major national network which spans the globe with its coverage. There is no source of information on the planet to which Lara does not have easy access.
And with all this, she tells us in a heartfelt plaint – in the kind of monologue where a person may be trusted to bare her innermost truth – she had no sense of the fact that women in Arabic cultures are harassed and subjected to abuse. She did not notice that public spaces in those countries do not belong to women. She failed to observe that men control those spaces, exercising an oppressive role in society.
Respectfully, and with sensitivity to her pain, I must express my astonishment. I knew all those things she just described, and I knew them long ago. So did every single one of my colleagues at this magazine and at every similar publication. I would venture to say that the vast majority of our readership knew all this as well. Not because we entertain prejudices about members of other races, but because we are trained observers of reality.
The question is as obvious as it is painful: inasmuch as Lara Logan is every bit as well-trained and as knowledgeable about the world as the journalists at The American Spectator et al., how could she profess ignorance of such a blatant, patent, palpable, flagrant phenomenon?
The answer is not an original thought of mine. It was expressed in the popular culture by the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes. People can be maneuvered into missing obvious truths by peer pressure, conventional wisdom and wishful thinking. When personal experience intrudes jarringly, eyes dulled by a film of willful ignorance are opened wide. Then the proverbial liberal who gets mugged starts thinking conservatively. The mark who gets taken takes a second look at his givens.
Logan’s new awareness is echoed immediately by the celebration of Bin Laden being summarily executed in his courtyard and bedroom rather than being brought to the courtroom. Suddenly everyone in Manhattan and Hollywood and Burlington and Berkeley knows what we know everyday. At least, they know it for today. That is good news, as far as it goes, a great relief to those who feared we would walk blindly into oblivion.
Still, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that we would be better served by the governance of those who can tell the Emperor’s fur from his chest hair.