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What the Strauss-Kahn Case Is Not About

A Commentary by Froma Harrop

Thursday, July 07, 2011

The twisting rape case against former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn has set off a whirlwind of journalistic creativity. Commentators are whipping a couple of broken eggs into a grand souffle of sweeping statements about the United States, France and their peoples. The facts still point to a violent sexual encounter between Strauss-Kahn and the African immigrant who accused him of attempted rape in the Manhattan hotel where she cleaned rooms.

The woman turns out to be a bit more complicated than the pious Muslim whom The New York Times described last month as "an unassuming and hardworking single mother," who was "born in a mud hut" and "raised to respect authority." Apparently, the woman consorted with a known drug dealer, lied to immigration officials about having been gang-raped in Guinea, fibbed about her finances, cheated on her taxes and, after the arrest of Strauss-Kahn, apparently phoned her jailed boyfriend to say in her native language: "Don't worry, this guy has a lot of money. I know what I'm doing."

None of this means that she wasn't sexually attacked by this French politician, known for pushing himself on women. But her inconsistencies haven't helped her credibility.

As the wheels of justice grind on, let's consider what the case is not about.

It is not about whether the French do or do not like Americans. It is not about Americans taking liberties with French pride, which some do, but so what? I don't care for the tabloid rats' excessive piling on, but I happen to like the First Amendment, which protects free speech.

Franco-American passions change like March weather on the prairie. And we are talking about approximately 387 million opinions, most of them not based in central Paris or Manhattan, where the media workers do most of their interviewing.

The story is not about a flawed American justice system, which, in this case, performed well. With solid evidence of rough sex and a plausibly distraught "victim," the arrest of Strauss-Kahn was proper, especially since he was about to leave the country. After the woman was found to be less than pure, the Manhattan district attorney disclosed the information, damaging his case and subjecting himself to scorn. Cyrus Vance did what he had to do.

Interesting also how a woman conning various government agencies would underestimate the New York City police. She clearly never suspected that they tapped jailhouse phone calls or would find someone who spoke the Fulani dialect.

The inevitable "Guineans Fear Repercussions" headline is a classic page-filler implying that the U.S. public turns against ethnic groups when one member does something bad. Rarely happens. However, there should be repercussions against those who abuse our system for granting asylum.

Meanwhile, growing doubts about the woman's veracity do not automatically give Strauss-Kahn full victim status. Before the contradictions were revealed, Strauss-Kahn's friend, celebrity intellectual Bernard-Henri Levy, was already foaming in The Daily Beast that the "degradation of a man whose silent dignity couldn't be touched was not just cruel, it was pornographic."

Strauss-Kahn owes his friend big-time, because "silent dignity" is not a term many would apply to a man famous for groping women. In 2008, Strauss-Kahn apologized for an affair with an underling at the IMF who said she was coerced into sex. And a female French journalist is now accusing him of attempted rape.

Here's what the case is about: One prominent Frenchman with a reputation for mistreating women has a sexual clash with one Guinean woman known to play the angles. Use this to cook up broad cultural generalizations, if you must. But the facts would make it a small-bore "he said, she said."

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