The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Fear and Loathing in Cairo

Posted on | February 18, 2011 | 3 Comments

“In this case, rightwingers who have an interest in stoking fear and loathing of Muslims worldwide pounced at the opportunity to smear all Egyptians with this crime. Popular rightwing bloggers Debbie Schlussel, Robert Stacy McCain, and Sister Toldjah were among those who immediately used the attack to reinforce their anti-Muslim, anti-revolution arguments. But the real cause of sex crime is power, and its abuse, and that is a problem in all the nations on this planet.”
Amanda Marcotte, “Adding insult to Lara Logan’s injury,” Guardian (U.K.)

Others may, and certainly will, speak for themselves. On Tuesday, when CBS News went public with the story of Lara Logan being sexually assaulted by the Cairo mob, I wasn’t online, but in Washington on a shoe-leather reporting trip to Capitol Hill. Nearly everyone else in the blogosphere had already weighed in by the time I became aware of the story and had time to write about it Wednesday morning:

Maybe Egyptians could use one of [Jill] Filipovic’s pious lectures about “no means no” and “stop means stop.” I’d probably be accused of some sort of thought-crime if I were to suggest that the spontaneous outburst of savagery against Lara Logan of CBS News says anything about the future course of democracy in Egypt. . . .
There are profound and fundamental flaws in feminist ideology, flaws which this outrageous crime in Cairo might help us to understand, but we will never achieve such an understanding if we permit feminists to control the conversation. And one way they exercise that control is by threatening to cast into outer darkness anyone who, in seeking the truth, incautiously says the wrong thing out loud.
What we ought to be saying out loud, as Michelle Malkin reminds us, is prayers for Lara Logan. . . .

You can read that whole thing and decide for yourself what to think about my first reaction to this criminal atrocity. When you’re through reading that, you can go read the entirety of what Amanda Marcotte writes at the Guardian. This is one of the wonders of the modern world, that everyone with an Internet connection has access to so much information and so many opinions, and that each of us can consider the facts, survey the opinions, and make up our own minds.

What happened to Lara Logan a week ago in Cairo has become one of those symbolic battlegrounds where intellectuals make war over ideological abstractions like “democracy” and “equality” and “freedom.” These are, of course, only words describing mere ideas, and should not be mistaken for the actual facts of events in Egypt.

Such are the characteristic errors of intellectualism: Those whose speciality is the use of the written word to express ideas are prone to confusing the words they write with actual facts.

An immense gulf separates (a) what happened to Lara Logan in Cairo and (b) what I or Amanda Marcotte or anyone else writes about that event.

Actions are one thing, and words are something else.

Knowing few facts about the crime, whose perpetrators have not yet been identified, we are left to write about the circumstances that led to the crime: A famously attractive female reporter for an American TV news network, assigned to the scene of a revolutionary uprising in a distant country most of us have never visited, savagely assaulted by a mob of men. From whatever handful of factual dots we can assemble — including everything we know about Egypt and its culture, which for most of us is precious little — we then assemble a mental picture in gestalt fashion, commenting on what we think happened and describing what we believe to have been the contributing factors in this crime.

What we must resist, however, is the intellectual arrogance that would lead us to imagine that our thoughts and beliefs are coterminous with the facts of the event. Because the facts — what really happened last Friday in Cairo — have a concrete reality that our thoughts and beliefs do not have.

Here is the danger of intellectualism, the arrogance of the articulate classes who suppose that their superior facility with the written word and their access to the pages of influential publications enables them to alter reality merely by the act of writing about events, including distant events they did not witness.

Amanda Marcotte re-frames the crime against Lara Logan to fit her own political commitment to feminism, while accusing others of interpreting the crime in terms of “anti-Muslim, anti-revolution” prejudice.

If Marcotte or any other American feminist wishes to fly to Cairo and lecture Egyptians about rape, I certainly wish them bon voyage. Yet I doubt they’ll be taking that trip any time soon, because their ideology isn’t likely long to survive direct contact with the reality of life in Egypt.

As for the accusation of prejudice against Muslims or against the Egyptian revolution, I suppose that’s like saying that Edmund Burke was prejudiced against the French when he famously cautioned in 1790: “The effect of liberty to individuals is that they may do what they please; we ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations which may be soon turned into complaints.” And at the same time, Burke freely confessed his actual prejudices:

You see, that in this enlightened age I am bold enough to confess, that [the English] are generally men of untaught feelings; that instead of casting away all our old prejudices, we cherish them to a very considerable degree, and to take more shame to ourselves, we cherish them because they are prejudices; and the longer they have lasted, and the more generally they have prevailed, the more we cherish them. . . . Prejudice is of ready application in the emergency; it previously engages the mind in a steady course of wisdom and virtue, and does not leave the man hesitating in the moment of decision, skeptical, puzzled and unresolved. Prejudice renders a man’s virtue his habit; and not a series of unconnected acts. Through just prejudice, his duty becomes a part of his nature.
Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France

Such is the prejudice that has caused many intelligent and well-informed people to warn that recent events in Egypt may be harbingers of peril for America and her allies.

If things go badly in Cairo, we shall not be the first to suffer, nor shall our suffering be worse than that of the Egyptians themselves, just as it was for the French to whom Burke addressed his epistle. We wait to see whether what was true in Burke’s day, and what has so often been true in the centuries since, is also true now, namely that this revolution will eventually make victims of those who were among its first and foremost advocates.

As for Amanda Marcotte, who presumes to lecture us about our “fear and loathing” after having led the online lynch-mob against the Duke lacross team, we have good reason to suspect that she is mistaken, as she has been so badly mistaken so often before. 

However, we might yet be persuaded to credit Ms. Marcotte’s Valentines to the Egyptian revolution — just as soon as she starts writing them under a Cairo dateline.

UPDATE: Among the several absurdities piling up around this incident, I’ll note only (a) Anderson Cooper turning the rape of Lara Logan into a story about Nirs Rosen being mean to Anderson Cooper; and (b) an attack on “some Kapo token Spectator Jew, Aaron Goldstein.”


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