by Nidra Poller (May-June 2011)
On the cover of the May 14-20 issue of Marianne, a snarling left wing weekly: “Political blundering and private stumbling … / how did we put up with it?” You’ll never guess who’s the stumbling blunderer. It’s President Sarkozy! Mug shots of the French president have been the default cover of Marianne since 2007, but this week’s cover stands alone in a portrait gallery of distraught disgraced Dominique Strauss-Kahn. The above-mentioned special issue celebrates the publication of a book by of Marianne’s former editor-in-chief, the hand-flailing provocateur-en-chef Jean-François Kahn, who mocked the DSK [pronounced “Day Ess Kah”] “scandal.” I hope it will be nothing worse than “le troussage d’une domestique” [shtupping a chambermaid].
Michel Taubman, author of a recently released biography of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, proudly notes that he included a chapter on “seduction.” Seduction, ok, but violence? Taubman can’t imagine such a thing. This “scientific” evaluation was echoed by dozens of friends and colleagues of the accused. Staunchly defending the right to privacy of public figures they reacted to the DSK shock as if every man is an open book: no secret garden, inner self, self-destructive impulses, or dark side.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn was 10 minutes away from impunity on Saturday May 14th. Now he’s looking at 15 to 74 years in jail. If the NYPD had acted as slowly as our French police–especially on a weekend–he would have gone scot free. (Remember the shoe bomber?) Offhand I would guess that our police would have to get permission from a judge before scraping up DNA samples, questioning witnesses, boarding an airplane 1O minutes from takeoff. I may be wrong. But I am confident that an incident like this in France would be swept under the thick Sofitel carpeting and buried in the silence that power commands. The chambermaid wouldn’t file a complaint. If she dared to go to the police they might discredit her word and send her packing, the hotel would probably fire her for misconduct, and the media would close their eyes and ears if someone tried to inform them. This is what most French people think would happen if a high profile political figure overstepped some shaky boundaries on the way to the presidential nomination of the Socialist party.
However, they do not necessarily approve!!!
It is easier to imagine what DSK would have done if the police had not stepped into the first class section of the Air France flight and asked him politely to follow them, than to imagine whether he could have imposed his impromptu sexual desire on a 32 year-old Guinean chambermaid in the hushed interior of a luxurious suite at the midtown New York Sofitel. I imagine that if the plane had taken off he would have landed in France, announced he was resigning from the IMF to run in the Socialist primaries…figuring he could stay away from the U.S. until the story shriveled and died. Once ensconced in the Elysées Palace wouldn’t he be internationally immune?
If he did what he is accused of doing, it means he already considered himself immune.
What initially shocked French commentators was the realization that the act, if actually committed, is a crime punishable by decades in a ghastly American prison. The very morning of the alleged incident, DSK was still polling as the hands-down winner who could defeat either Nicolas Sarkozy or Marine le Pen in the 2nd round of the 2012 elections. The Front National candidate, who is getting traction on an anti-Islamization stance, came out immediately on the side of the alleged victim, identified at the time as a Ghanaian named Ophelia. It took most commentators another 24 hours to realize that by placing Dominique Strauss Kahn on a presumption of innocence pedestal they were necessarily slandering the plaintiff.
He could be innocent. But only if she is guilty.
One source says the IMF president, who had reserved a modest $525 room, was upgraded to the $3,000 a night suite. The whole affair clangs with this kind of theatrical irony. If the suite had not been available, would a different chambermaid have mistakenly barged in on a one-man orgy and be forcefully invited to participate? Or if there had been no upgrade there would there have been no chambermaid and no scandal. And Dominique Strauss-Kahn would be president of France this time next year.
Some of us thought he might have misgivings about leaving his comfortable IMF post for a romp in the Socialist party’s hornet’s nest. Polled as a winner before officially declaring his candidature, he could have been jumped as soon as he hit the ground. The Socialists have not had a president since François Mitterand (who in my opinion belonged exclusively to the Pretentious Opportunist’s party). They do well in local and regional elections but, weighed down by the competing ambitions of multiple fair to middling candidates, can’t rise to presidential level.
In fact, the sniping had already begun. Photographed as he stepped into a Porsche Panamera on a recent visit to France, “accused” of leading a luxurious lifestyle inconsistent with the professed values of the Socialist party, DSK was reportedly suing the France Soir daily for slander. Did he work on the case while occupying the luxurious Sofitel suite…on his own dime…for a private visit that included but apparently was not limited to Saturday lunch with his daughter Camille, a PhD candidate at Columbia University?
French socialists today are starry-eyed hypocrites. They gobble causes like gluttons in an all-you-can-eat Chinese restaurant. They hung onto DSK’s coattails while picking his pockets. Even now, when their ace in the hole is really in the hole, they keep chirping about how he was such a superb combination of economic savvy and social justice.
Laurianne Deniaud, president of the Young Socialists, interviewed two weeks ago on a Jewish radio station in Paris, said she found nothing objectionable about DSK’s lifestyle. What’s wrong with accepting a ride in the Porsche of his communications counselor Ramzi Khiroun who works for the multinational Lagardère? We have nothing against wealthy people, she said, contradicting the party’s underlying logic and eternal platform. In fact, Socialists have nothing against wealthy people as long as they can take their money and give it to the poor. Mademoiselle Young Socialist seems to think they should be free to enjoy a few perks before they’re milked. The difference with Sarkozy, she said, is that he makes a big show of his relations with wealthy people. He’s flashy. His government favors the rich. He doesn’t care about the underprivileged.
You might say so. If the former most favored Socialist candidate did in fact force himself on a low-income immigrant chambermaid, isn’t that a sign of egalitarian values? Redistribution?
Dominique Strauss-Kahn is Jewish, the woman he allegedly assaulted is Muslim, one member of Strauss-Kahn’s 5-star legal team is Jewish, but so is the plaintiff’s lawyer. None of these religious-ethnic labels are applied in France where the affair is debated from morning to night, from one end of the country to the other, with a level of serious attention that I have rarely witnessed. Opinions cut across party lines, ideological divides, and partisan loyalties. On Sunday, one week after the scandal broke, mainstream media picked up the Haaretz interview of Benjamin Brafman esquire, without mentioning why he was interviewed by an Israeli paper. Jewish radio filled in the missing links: he was there to celebrate the Lag Baomer holiday with his Israeli son—a rabbi—and grandchildren. My client, said Brafman, will be acquitted.
Leftists, who are particularly eager to see their hero exonerated, hang on the words of his Orthodox Jewish attorney pronounced in Israel—two targets of their perpetual virulent criticism—and implicitly hope for the demolition of the chambermaid, a hardworking African immigrant, the kind of person they love to defend. Dominique Strauss-Kahn is still a darling in the banlieue of Sarcelles where he served as mayor and then deputy mayor from 1995 to 2007. Black residents of Sarcelles, filmed at a town hall meeting, are indignant: He was set up! says one woman. A gentleman joins in: Showing him that way, in handcuffs, in court, was an insult to us as French citizens!
One fascinating consequence of this affair is that words are forcibly locked in to realities. You can hear the click! Here, in this culture of discourse, a French person can stay underwater in the realm of abstraction for years, for a whole lifetime, without coming up for the air of reality! What does it mean “he was set up?” If there was a trap, it means he fell into it. No “get thee behind me Satan”! Not even a moment’s hesitation. On the other hand, the clever blackmailer who set him up a half hour before the lunch appointment with his daughter and a few hours before his scheduled flight to Paris was playing close to the wire. Remember, the plane was about to take off when monsieur Strauss-Kahn was snatched. Ten more minutes and the whole complicated, expensive, dangerous plot would have been down the drain, the sin washed away on a transatlantic flight.
Further, who would take the chance of setting up the great seducer with a nondescript chambermaid from the Bronx, a refugee from conflict-ridden poverty-stricken Guinea-Conakry? Wouldn’t a call girl, a top model, a movie star or a sexy Brazilian she-politician have been a wiser choice?
Decidedly, the honey pot scenario is a title followed by 120 empty pages.
The feminists are not taking this lying down. A demonstration is scheduled this afternoon (Sunday May, 22). I’ll have a look and report.
At the greengrocer’s this morning I got the unvarnished wisdom of an honest working girl. No conspiracy theory. No convoluted psychiatric evaluations. Just a hearty healthy opinion as down to earth as the delicious fruits and vegetables she was serving on a sunny morning in May. “He messed up! He could have been president of France. But he followed ‘it’ instead of using his brain. Too bad for him.” We joked about the American system of justice. “They don’t fool around!”
It’s true that in the first 48 hours we heard a lot about the brutal “accusatory” American system of justice and the superior “inquisitorial” [sic] French system. But the initial shock quickly gave way to a collective effort to understand how the accused IMF president will defend himself.
The sight of a big shot reduced to the lowest common denominator, caught in the iron grip of the law– the perp walk, cameras in the courtroom, Rikers Island, house arrest, million-dollar bail and 5 million dollar bond– has provoked a rude awakening of the French conscience. The instant disgrace and long term possibility of severe punishment has made this crime—if confirmed–real. Even if a public figure like Strauss-Kahn were punished here, which is unlikely, he would never be displayed. Another salutary shock came when property owners at the Upper East Side condominium refused to approve rental of a luxurious apartment for DSK’s house arrest.
A relatively serious panel discussion–“C dans l’air”–was underway on May 16th while Strauss-Kahn was being arraigned in New York. Participants were wondering if the court would allow the IMF president to keep his passport, so that he could continue to conduct business while awaiting trial. Christophe Barber, editorial director of the news weekly l’Express, was in the middle of a sentence when the news broke. Judge Melissa Jackson has denied release on bail. He will go to jail. Barbier’s jaw dropped as he exclaimed, “They must have concrete evidence!”
It is a mistake to think that French people are brushing this off with a Gallic shrug. Bernard Henri Levy, Jack Lang, and Jean-François Kahn notwithstanding, the vast majority of French people make a distinction between sweet talking women into bed and forcing your body parts and fluids on them. They may be forgiven if they do not jump for joy at the sight of a man who had a brilliant future now facing bleak decades in a merciless prison because of his self-destructive behavior.
I had a long, fruitful conversation with a French woman encountered at a newsstand on rue de Sèvres in the elegant 7th arrondissement of Paris. She thinks that DSK didn’t really want to be president. [His third wife] Anne Sinclair had money, charm, and beautiful blue eyes [tinted contact lenses, says my informant] but she wanted power. If the Socialists are intelligent and stick with François Hollande, she says, they can win in 2012. The “IF” was enormous. If they choose [party chief] Martine Aubry, they’ll lose. She will never be president of France.
Astute observers are predicting just that–a battle between Aubry and Hollande; self-destructive political behavior in the wake of their favored candidate’s self-destructive personal behavior. The same people who have been mocking the Puritanical Americans this week are now gearing up to anoint the prim and proper Strauss-Kahn substitutes. The qualities that made Aubry seem dull, says one sympathetic journalist, will now be in her favor. Aubry promises that come what may the Socialists are united, they will fulfill their promise to restore the honor of la République, get rid of Nicolas Sarkozy who loves the rich, punishes the poor and tarnishes the image of France. They will heal social injustice, foster cohesion, create a climate of respect for all citizens…while secretly hoping that the millions of dollars spent by yesterday’s dream candidate to stay out of jail and pay expensive lawyers to sully the plaintiff and beat the rap can go on quietly in the background without casting a retrospective shadow on their “integrity.”
A Guinean woman caught by a French TV camera in the Bronx says this kind of thing happens to women all the time in our country. But here in the United States, she concludes with a patriotic smile, they don’t get away with it.
This story has more legs than a recomposed centipede family. Everybody is reading everybody, commenting on the commentaries, reacting to the reactions. The New York Post is either inventing juicy details or feeding on a direct tube from the NYPD. French media are scurrying like the last piglet looking for a tit. Having slammed the Post as a gutter tabloid they have to wait until the precious information is shlurped up by dignified papers like the NY Times [sic]. The NY Post says monsieur Strauss-Kahn was a serial pest on that fateful weekend. He hit on the attractive VIP-handler who escorted him to his suite. Then he hit on the receptionist at the desk. And, a few minutes before the police came to pluck him out of the Air France plane, he made the 1st class stewardess the butt of a vulgar compliment on her “beau cul.”
As the socialist opposition writhed in scandal last week, members of the governing party were told to keep mum. UMP deputy Bernard Debré—who is a reputable urologist—was an exception. He said friends at the Sofitel told him they were fed up with DSK’s sexual shenanigans. (The hotel manager immediately denied Debré’s “slanderous” accusation.) Former Justice Minister Robert Badinter, revered for piloting the abolition of the death penalty during Mitterand’s presidency, lavished praise on the dignity of Anne Sinclair and her unfailing loyalty to her husband Dominique Strauss-Kahn. The millions in bail and bond come from the personal fortune of Sinclair, granddaughter and heiress of Paul Rosenberg, a Parisian art dealer who fled to New York to escape the Nazis.
You don’t have to be a feminist to disagree with Badinter’s praise of the valiant woman! And you don’t have to be French to mistake puzzling subjection for admirable fortitude. Hillary Clinton, for example?
Sunday’s demonstration drew a pretty good crowd in the Igor Stravinski square across from the Pompidou Centre. Clusters of different varieties of feminists– white-haired old guard, lovely young things, gay-lesbian etceteras—mixed with anti-capitalists (because of the IMF angle) and unaffiliated men and women shocked by the apologetics that had resurfaced. I do not remember any such collective reaction when Wikileaks guru Julian Assange and his claque were denying rape allegations.
I struck up a conversation with a young woman who told me she was shocked by every aspect of the affair. The million-dollar bail, for example. Justice for the rich, she thought. On the contrary, I tried to explain, a poor man’s bail would be in the thousands. Will the Socialist party brush itself off and pursue its path to victory? She doesn’t think so. Anyway, a Socialist has no business running the IMF, she said, readily acknowledging that she is anti-capitalist. Beyond politics, this scandal has shocked people to the core.
And the ticker tape keeps on clicking. Interior Minister Claude Guéant says the French government would support an eventual request by Dominique Strauss-Kahn to serve his sentence in France if, of course, he is found guilty. Whaaat? Didn’t DSK sign a solemn promise to abstain from any demand for extradition? Or maybe that’s repatriation? Wouldn’t it amount to the same thing? He’d be out of jail in no time.
Let me conclude with a report in Le Parisien daily from the Futa mosque on 3rd Avenue in the Bronx where Guineans gather. A young imam has no objections to the release of the accused rapist on bail. That’s the American way. It’s normal. Three veiled women stand at a discreet distance. But a mature woman, speaking for the “whole community,” has more than enough to say. We stand by our sister Nafissatou Diallo. We trust her word. She wouldn’t lie. It is against our religion. That’s blasphemy. The director of the mosque takes her firmly by the arm, leads her away, and declares: “The French ex-minister is fortunate… as for his victim, she is sullied forever.”
Chilling reminder that, in certain lands bent under the rule of shariah, the rape victim could be stoned to death.
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