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WorldVoices: DSK, Politics, and Morality

[Editor’s Note: WorldVoices—a recurring feature of the WorldPolicy blog—links to opinion and analysis of current events from English-language news sources around the globe.]

By Julie Mellin

Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s arrest on May 15, followed promptly by his resignation as head of the IMF— along with a not-guilty plea to charges including a criminal sexual act, attempted rape, and unlawful imprisonment—shocked the financial and political world. Bloggers, pundits, and the press unleashed a host of opinions on the implications of whatever may have transpired, and its aftermath—for gender relations, French domestic and international politics, the IMF, even immigration policy. New York tabloids leapt at the opportunity to demonize Strauss-Kahn as a pervert and a criminal, while French papers criticized the incivility of the American police and press. Women’s interest blogs criticized France’s seemingly blasé attitude towards sexual harassment by powerful, arrogant men in the corporate and political worlds.

On July 1, amid allegations that his accuser had lied about a range of issues from her immigration status to previous sexual assaults and other key pieces of her background, Strauss-Kahn was released from house arrest. Many believe the charges against him will be dropped at his next court date, recently pushed back from July 18 to August 1.

In the United States, a public scandal like Strauss-Kahn’s would almost certainly lead to overwhelming public condemnation, even political collapse (as has happened with Bill Clinton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Anthony Weiner, John Edwards, and Eliot Spitzer, among others). However, the global media has adopted a broad range of attitudes:

Francis Wache, Executive Editor of Cameroon’s The Post, writes about what he sees as Strauss-Kahn’s “tumbling” (prematurely, it appears) in the face of the New York maid’s allegations:

…it is still difficult to imagine how, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, this extraordinarily brilliant Professor of Economics, outstanding former French Minister of Economy and Finance and, before the Sofitel hotel tryst, the renowned Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, IMF, and favourite candidate in next year's French presidential elections, could tumble so low. Why did he crack so easily? That, for sure, is the trillion franc question.

What is fascinating about the DSK Affair is that, while the omnipotent IMF boss has been humiliated by being paraded as a common criminal, a skunk—handcuffed, unshaven and escorted by policemen who hemmed him in and out of court, incarcerated in a prison referred to as 'Hell', Nafi [Diallo, the Sofitel maid who accused Strauss-Kahn], on the contrary, has received VIP treatment. She has been sequestered from the public glare. Pas possible! the French press has screamed.

For now, DSK's dream to seduce and conquer France has fizzled overnight because of his libidinous laxity or, as the late Mbella Sonne Dipoko, Cameroon's celebrated novelist, would have put it: all because of women.”

Despite the treatment Wache observes, Sano Dossou Condé, the Guinean presidential party’s official spokesperson, never believed her fellow countrywoman, Strauss-Kahn’s accuser, and finds her allegations reprehensible. As she said recently in an interview with Ivoir TV, a Côte d'Ivoire-based web television channel:

I am humiliated today that it is one of my fellow citizens who plays this game. Honestly, I do not believe this. I am humiliated today that it is an African woman who adopts an American culture to state publicly that she is raped…. I sympathize with the humiliation of Anne Sinclair [Strauss-Kahn’s wife], she is the one who interests me a lot in this affair.”

John Lichfield of London’s The Independent dissects France’s lack of media response to the allegations (supposedly in the interest of privacy), summarizing it as a cultural phenomenon that would be considered morally unacceptable in other western countries:

During the last election campaign in 2007, both the main candidates, Nicolas Sarkozy and Ségolène Royal, had split with their partners but nothing much was written in the French press. The splits spoke eloquently about each candidate and the motivation for their campaigns. Most French voters, outside the Paris media village, were allowed to know nothing.

In the case of DSK—and the evidence of his predatory attitude towards women—the French media, Mr. [Christophe] Deloire [co-author of Sexus Politicus, a controversial book dissecting the link between sex and politics in France] suggested, had a duty to write about such things. Privacy should be trumped, he said, by what George Orwell called ‘common decency’: the simple morality and honesty that rules the lives of most ordinary people…. The French media and French justice systems have an extravagant definition of the extents of 'privacy' for public figures. Consensual extramarital affairs are one thing. Sexual harassment, bordering on assault is another.”

Still, many French seem to see Strauss-Kahn as capable as ever. According to a poll conducted by French daily Le Parisien, almost half of respondents believe Strauss-Kahn should return to politics and run in next May’s presidential election as planned. Interviews from the streets of Paris as well as with political science experts transcribed by Voice of America depict a major divide over Strauss-Kahn’s comeback:

‘He is going to come back in France and he will be welcomed as a hero because he was a victim of a plot …  I think he is the one with the more chances to be the new president in France, even if we know the events,’ said one of those polled.

Researcher Nicole Bacharan, of the Paris-based Foundation of Political Sciences, says while she sees Strauss-Kahn's male supporters elated at his potential comeback, women are shocked his past behavior might be forgotten.‘If Dominique Strauss-Kahn did not rape this woman, he should walk free. No question.  However, I think this whole mess will make it more difficult for women anywhere to come forward anywhere and say they have been raped. That is not very good news.’

American University of Paris Political Science Professor Steven Ekovich believes that whatever Strauss-Kahn's future, his case has offered a civics lesson for many French. ‘This is the presumed Socialist candidate for president … and the Socialists stand in principle for the downtrodden, the poor, those who have not had privileges in life. The roles have of course been completely reversed in this particular situation. So as typical of a political scandal, a political sex scandal even, the question of hypocrisy comes into play.  And here we have a glaring example of hypocrisy.’”


Julie Mellin is an editorial assistant at World Policy Journal.

[Photo courtesy of  AP/Getty Images]

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