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Thu Jul 24 16:45:23 SAST 2014

THE BIG READ: Fallacy of cash hubris

John Lloyd, Reuters | 19 October, 2012 00:39
French Reaction To Arrest Of Dominique Strauss-Kahn
Newspapers with coverage of the U.S. arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are pictured on May 16, 2011 in Paris, France. International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who had been expected to announce a presidential bid for France in the coming weeks, was arrested in New York on May 14 on sexual assault charges. (Photo by Franck Prevel/Getty Images)
Image by: Franck Prevel / Getty Images

Mark Antony, in his oration for the murdered Julius Caesar in William Shakespeare's play, observes: "The evil that men do lives after them." Indeed, in our supercharged world, evil lives with its perpetrator, tearing him down while still in his prime.

Antony's musing would bring a grim smile to the faces of many men; none grimmer, perhaps, than that of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former head of the International Monetary Fund, former presidential hope of France's Socialist Party and, given the success the more modest Francois Hollande had in defeating Nicolas Sarkozy, a former future president.

Talking to Le Point this month, the former and future world statesman complained he is the victim of a "manhunt", but added he has been "naive" and "out of step with French society". Cleared of sexually assaulting a maid in New York, he still faces charges of being part of a prostitution ring in which fraudulently acquired money was used to pay the women. He denies everything, calling the accusations absurd.

All he did, he says, was to go to sex parties in which many people - including many distinguished people - took part. He has never denied being a swinger. Reportedly, he told his wife, Annie Sinclair, before their marriage 20 years ago: "Don't marry me, I'm an incorrigible skirt-chaser." Sinclair, indulgent of faults of which she had been warned, stood by him for months, but left him this summer.

He says he was never a rapist, though a journalist, Tristane Banon, who sought an interview with him in 2002, alleges he tried to rape her.

Strauss-Kahn implies he is guilty only of misreading French public opinion, with more than a suggestion he is being judged by hypocrites who do, or wish to do, what he does.

But it's more than that. He's being judged against a modern, feminist view that power - economic, social and political - remains unequal between men and women, and that sexual power is thus also unequal.

That perspective got dramatic last week when Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard tore into opposition leader Tony Abbott. Pointing a finger at her opponent across the parliamentary chamber, Gillard said: "I will not take lessons on misogyny from that man."

The world's most seductive statesman, Silvio Berlusconi, also, like Strauss-Kahn, faces a trial - in which he is accused of paying to have sex with an underage girl, Karima el-Mahroug, a Moroccan exotic dancer.

The trial, postponed during Italian justice's long summer pause, resumed this month. No one will bet that Berlusconi will be found guilty. He's evaded every one of the many raps against him.

Even when it was clear associates ferried busloads of young women to his parties and that he told lies about his activities, Berlusconi retained his popularity with a majority of voting Italians. Never charged with rape, his money and media holdings made him as much a target of seduction as an initiator.

In her book, We, Silvio's Girls, Elisa Alloro, a former employee of Berlusconi's Mediaset channels, presents him as a man of kindness and honour, saying: "I have always considered every moment I have spent with him as a gift from God."

Along with the attractions of money and media, Berlusconi has been able to count on a culture more accommodating than the Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian ones to the use of power and wealth, including its use to attract young women to older men.

But most of the male world sees wealth and fame that way - and many women acquiesce - including the Anglo-Saxons.

Britain, not for the first time, is transfixed by a sex scandal, this one involving a famed broadcaster, Sir (no less) Jimmy Savile, who died last year and who revelled in his riches and fame - Rolls-Royce, big cigars. He did much for charity - hence his knighthood - and, it now appears, used charitable activities involving the young and vulnerable to force himself upon them.

He stands, posthumously, accused of many cases of harassment and two of rape. The BBC, his main employer, also stands accused of assuming, as he did, that wealth, celebrity and power would shield him from investigation.

That is less - much less - likely to be true now. But it is true, still, in much of the world. In some parts, women don't report rape because they, not the rapist, will be punished. Yet even where only shame has attended women who are sexual victims, there are hopeful signs. A friend, Supriya Sharma, a reporter at the Times of India, wrote last month of an alleged gang rape of a Dalit (lower caste) girl by boys of a higher-level Jat caste. One boy was identified to the police by a Jat girl, a schoolmate of the Dalit victim.

She won't be identified, but said: "The boys should be punished. It could have been any one of us [girls]."

"Sisterhood triumphs" was the title of Sharma's piece, ending with her comment that "when it came to choosing between her schoolmate and caste-cousin, the girl didn't have to think twice".

For men in comfortable societies, Edgar in King Lear put it well: "The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices make instruments to plague us." Just or unjust, the plaguing makes the vice less pleasant.

Ask DSK.

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