05.17.11

In Defense of the Hotel Maid

French intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy wrote yesterday on the Beast, "What I do know is that nothing can justify a man being thus thrown to the dogs." Laila Lalami knows a few more things. Who the real dogs are, for one.

French intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy wrote Monday on the Beast, "What I do know is that nothing can justify a man being thus thrown to the dogs." Laila Lalami knows a few more things. Who the real dogs are, for one.

Tuesday evening.

I do not know what actually happened Monday, the day before today, inside the head of Bernard-Henri Lévy.

No one knows, actually. Because there is no evidence of deep and careful thinking in his defense of Dominique Strauss-Kahn—the IMF director accused last weekend of sexual assault on a hotel maid in New York.

But it certainly would be nice to know how a philosopher who has so staunchly claimed to defend the rights of Muslim women can find himself on the side of the alleged rapist rather than on the side of his alleged (Muslim) victim.

I refuse to consider the dime-store psychology explanation that the person Lévy chooses to defend is, like him, the bearer of a fancy, hyphenated name and, like him, a very rich man, and therefore this is all just a case of a few good ol' boys standing together.

It certainly would be nice to know how a philosopher who has so staunchly claimed to defend the rights of Muslim women can find himself on the side of the alleged rapist rather than on the side of his alleged (Muslim) victim.

What I do know is that nothing in the world can justify a philosopher throwing an alleged victim of sex assault to the dogs.

Nothing, no suspicion whatever, permits so many members of the French press to speculate that this must have been a wicked plot by Strauss-Kahn's rivals in the upcoming elections or by those who want him out at the IMF.

Nothing, no earthly law, should also allow a hotel maid—admirable in her courage to immigrate to another country, learn a new language, and support her children through honest work—to be exposed to the slime of French elites drunk on salacious gossip and driven by some obscure vengeance against hotel workers.

And what I know even more is that Strauss-Kahn, whom I do not know personally, was arrested on a plane as he attempted to leave the country; that his lawyers denied the charges of sex assault, then later said the sex was consensual; and that, during his tenure at the IMF, he was investigated for a sexual affair with a subordinate. Powerful man, yes. Rich man, yes. Subject to a different form of justice: no, not in this country.

This morning, I commend the American judge who, by delivering Strauss-Kahn to Rikers Island, took him for a subject of justice like any other.

At the same time, I am troubled by a public figure, modestly termed "a leading French intellectual," meaning that he gets to decide who should be held responsible for alleged sex crimes.

I resent the French tabloid press, a disgrace to the profession, that, without the least precaution or any consideration of the effect of their gossip, has depicted the hotel maid as having large breasts and a nice ass and being not very seductive.

I am angry with all those in France who jumped at the occasion to deride the American justice system, and America in general. Where was this outrage when Hannibal al-Gaddafi was released on bail after beating up his pregnant girlfriend in a Paris hotel?

And I hold it against the commentators, pundits, and other minor figures of a French political class who went well beyond mere statements of "shock" and "stupefaction," to publicly try a case about which none of us know very much.

I'm angry with, to name one, former Minister of Education Jack Lang, who couldn't understand the "lynching" that poor Dominique Strauss-Kahn had to endure under the American justice system, or why Strauss-Kahn hadn't been freed on bail when there had not been a death.

I hold it against all those who flatly deny the account of this other young woman, this one French, who for eight years, and perhaps out of fear, did not dare come forward about charges of attempted rape, but decided to put herself under public scrutiny now. Could it be that she sensed that her account would finally be believed?

And I am, of course, dismayed at the political impact of the event:

The French left, which, if Strauss-Kahn were out of the running, would have to figure out what it really stands for.

France, which must now come to terms with the possibility of having the far-right leader Marine Le Pen as its next president.

And the people of the Third World, who must now learn the name of the next IMF director who will ruin their economies.

Laila Lalami is the author of Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits and Secret Son. She is currently an associate professor at the University of California, Riverside. Follow her on Twitter at: Twitter.com/LailaLalami