The Rights of Man


I received the news about Lara Logan being sexually assaulted as I was preparing for a trip to Michigan, and so I couldn't say much. But on reflection, and under the assumption CBS relayed the details with Logan's assent, (It's hard to imagine otherwise) I want to offer a modest note on the great energy I took from the announcement.

For any class of humans looking to secure equality, the temporary submission of one right to secure other more permanent rights, is the hardest bargain. It imposes a deeply unfair burden on generational victims, often asking them to take a great leap back in the hope of a tremendous leap forward. Few things fill me with more rage than watching archival footage of black people surrendering their right to self-defense, a right deeply encoded in Western morality and law, and one which white Americans of that era took as natural, in pursuit of rights which were already in the Constitution. But it worked. And whatever rage I hold pales when compared with the successes.

In similar fashion, the fight for a world without shadows, where rapists are not given cover, requires the relinquishing of rights that which a great many of us take as natural--the right to privacy. If rape is something that repeatedly happens to faceless people, in abstract places, then it effectively never happens. If only some sprawling class called "women" are threatened by rape, then it remains a "theoretical evil," one which we can all safely agree is wrong, while taking great security in not being charged with doing absolutely nothing to correct the wrong

Even when it happens close to us, we often do not know because the victims do not speak. They have every reason in the world not to speak, beginning with the fact that much of the world stands ready to punish them for it. Surely in Egypt, right now, women are suffering from the same evil which Lara Logan suffered. They can expect no sympathetic public outcry upon naming of the crime and executors.  Likely quite the opposite.

I would not argue for a compulsive airing of suffering, but I would argue that secrecy is the handmaiden of evil. And while we all can understand why a victim would never speak on such a horror, moreover we can understand the great injustice in even requiring the victim to part with their natural rights, it's worth supporting that speech when it happens. I raised the point about women in Egypt, and implicitly Logan's relative privilege. But I don't want to drown the big truth here in typical lefty parsing. The fact of privilege is not so nearly important as the uses of privilege. I find this particular use significant and breathtaking. 
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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