Let me be honest here and say what I truly want to say about the following New York Times stories: It’s about freaking time. Now, I say that both as a journalist and as one of those old-school supporters of human rights who still likes to quote, every now and then, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights from that right-wing think tank, the United Nations.
The top of this particular story gets right to the point:
CAIRO – The sheer number of women sexually abused and gang raped in a single public square had become too big to ignore. Conservative Islamists in Egypt’s new political elite were outraged — at the women.
“Sometimes,” said Adel Abdel Maqsoud Afifi, a police general, lawmaker and ultraconservative Islamist, “a girl contributes 100 percent to her own raping when she puts herself in these conditions.”
The increase in sexual assaults over the last two years has set off a new battle over who is to blame, and the debate has become a stark and painful illustration of the convulsions racking Egypt as it tries to reinvent itself.
Obviously, we have a conflict here about essential human rights. My working assumption, right from the get-go, is that there is no one Muslim point of view on women’s issues linked to modesty in public life. Anyone who has read anything on these issues knows that a wide range of viewpoints exist among Muslim women and men.
So what have the women done to ignite this cultural and, yes, moral earthquake in the wake of the Arab Spring and the changes at the highest levels of Egyptian government and law? What is the nature and the content of this conflict?
Let’s try to walk through the labels attached to the competing points of view:
Women … have … taken advantage of another aspect of the breakdown in authority — by speaking out through the newly aggressive news media, defying social taboos to demand attention for a problem the old government often denied. At the same time, some Islamist elected officials have used their new positions to vent some of the most patriarchal impulses in Egypt’s traditional culture and a deep hostility to women’s participation in politics.
The female victims, these officials declared, had invited the attacks by participating in public protests. “How do they ask the Ministry of Interior to protect a woman when she stands among men?” Reda Saleh Al al-Hefnawi, a lawmaker from the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party, asked at a parliamentary meeting on the issue.
So we have “conservative Islamists” in the lede and in this passage, as well as a prominent “ultraconservative Islamist.” Readers must assume that their views on issues related to these crimes are different than those of ordinary “Islamists.”
Meanwhile, all of these competing “Islamist” groups appear to be linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, which means that there must be cultural and religious debates going on inside the ruling elite about issues linked to women’s rights, free speech, public protest, etc.
I am sure that in a debate between leaders in different Islamist camps, people often express their views in terms that are doctrinal as well as political/cultural. For example, what are the specific doctrinal, cultural and political views that are associated with what the Times calls the “most patriarchal impulses in Egypt’s traditional culture”?
Now, read the whole story and look for a single passage that references what any of these events have to do with the clashing beliefs found in these various “Islamist” camps.
Good luck with that.
What readers are given, instead, are shadows and hints. Consider this gripping passage, for example: