Nir Rosen: Um, I didn’t mean that

Nir Rosen

Nir Rosen’s disavowal of his rash twitter comments, here, is so sensitively articulate and so razor-sharp that it deserves to be read for its own sake. He said some brash things. He talked on Twitter as if her were talking on the phone. He was insensitive. He made incorrect assumptions. He made light of a woman’s physical and sexual assault. And worse for him, his comments play into the fantasy-nightmare of a white woman’s assault by brown-skinned males.

The media, ever drooling for coals to blow into a fire, puffs these things up, of course. This is regrettable. But the level of distortion we are seeing  reveals the manifest content, misogyny, to be a proxy for racism and ideology.

The glaring difference between Rosen’s own speech, including the tweets themselves, and the way they are being covered, is telling. Even in his tweets, Rosen is nuanced. He later admits he was reckless and uncareful: he hadn’t realized the actual extent of the assault on the journalist (Logan), he made (incorrect) assumptions about its being relatively trivial; he proceeded to process it based on these bad assumptions. Either way, he admits, he had no right to make light, as a man, of a woman getting assaulted.

But one also understands his frustration that, as a white woman, any level of assault Logan suffered, no matter how minor (which is not to say that it was minor, it wasn’t), would be getting, as we saw with Anderson Cooper (whose assault certainly was minor), tons of attention, even while brown-skinned Egyptians victims (and nonvictims alike) would remain anonymous and invisible. Certainly, no matter what the level of actual brutality Logan faced, her situation was going to play into the Western trope of the white female victimized by brown-skinned males, and the sensationalizing was going to detract from what was really going on in Tahrir, where far important stories were going to be ignored for the sake of a prepackaged story (in the sense of it playing into a trope and being used to reinforce stereotypes).

His frustration with the distorted media representation of the Tahrir events led him to make comments that were insensitive. His being a male probably also lent to his delayed identification with Logan’s victimage. This would be interesting if the media had a serious engagement with the content of his comments, especially in light of his clarifications. But the article below, as one example, merely displays the cheapness typical this media hype. There is no room for serious discussion of ideas, no variety of opinion, no room for thoughtful engagement with meaningful issues.

And if the Washington Post writer, Valerie Strauss (article below or here), is at all representative of the attack against Rosen, then we can see through its proxy antimisogyny rhetoric to its racist, ideological motives. In the piece below, she goes on at length about what a misogynist Rosen is for his three twitter comments before using them as a proxy to judge his extensive body of nuanced journalistic work. As a reporter in Iraq and as an influential editoritalist, Rosen has inveighed persuasively against the American-Israeli occupation of various Arab countries.

In contrasts to Rosen’s typically nuanced and carefully articulated presentation of his ideas in the print media, his Twitter comments were decidedly not nuanced. This is partially a function of Twitter itself, as a form of media given to assumption, distortion, and misunderstanding, since you can only fit so much intention and nuance into each of those 140-character boxes. Strauss, however, since she is writing in a space with plenty of room for nuance, has no excuse for her hasty conclusions and her scurrilous calls for head-hunting.

Lara Logan in Tahrir Square

Strauss’s conclusion, arrived at by an ultra-quick repackaging of received ideas, is that there is no room at a university for the likes of a Nir Rosen who irrevocably embodies “misogyny” and “distortions of reality.” Yet her linking of the ugly side of his Twitter comments to his broader political ideas, as a supporter of Palestinian resistance against Israel, is not only a logical non sequitur,  but reveals what appear to be her real motives for such a vitriolic attack on Rosen, which has more to do with race (she calls him “pro-Arab”) and ideology (we should apparently join her in dencouncing in the same breath his misogyny and his support for Palestinian autonomy).

Why didn’t NYU fire Nir Rosen over Lara Logan?

By Valerie Strauss

New York University’s Center on Law and Security allowed one of its fellows, Nir Rosen, to resign after he tweeted vile things about veteran CBS war correspondent Lara Logan, who sustained a brutal sexual assault and beating in Cairo during pro-democracy celebrations.

Why did the center’s executive director, Karen J. Greenberg, allow him to resign rather than to use the opportunity to take a tougher stand? Here’s what she told me today:

“Nir has always been a really good supporter of the center and I think he realized he had overstepped his bounds.”

She said that the issue was decided by the two of them, and then said: “That’s how these things are done.”

For those who don’t know, Logan was with a CBS crew in Tahrir Square last Friday when they were surrounded by, a network statement said, “a mob of more than 200 people whipped into a frenzy. In the crush of the mob, [Logan] was separated from her crew. She was surrounded and suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating before being saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers.”

The New York Post reported today that a network source reported that her attackers screamed, “Jew! Jew!” during the assault. A day earlier, Logan told that Egyptian soldiers who had hassled her and her crew accused them of being Israeli spies. Logan is not Jewish.

Rosen inexplicably decided to make something of a joke of the whole thing and put out a series of tweets, including:

*“Lara Logan had to outdo Anderson. Where was her buddy McCrystal.” (That is a reference to CNN journalist Anderson Cooper, and to retired Gen. Stanley Allen McChrystal, who was forced to resign as commander of troops in Afghanistan by President Obama for unflattering comments about administration officials attributed to McChrystal in a Rolling Stone article.)

*“Yes yes its wrong what happened to her. Of course. I don’t support that. But, it would have been funny if it happened to Anderson too.

*“Jesus Christ, at a moment when she is going to become a martyr and glorified we should at least remember her role as a major war monger

*“Look, she was probably groped like thousands of other women, which is still wrong, but if it was worse than [sic] I’m sorry.

To review: He made a joke of a brutal beating and sexual assault; he suggested that perhaps she concocted the sexual attack; he called her a warmonger; he said it would have been funny if Anderson Cooper had been attacked, too.

He wound up deleting some of the tweets (though they were captured by others beforehand) and said he would get off Twitter: “but there is no point following me, i am done tweeting. too ashamed of how i have hurt others and the false impression i gave of who i am.”

Greenberg, executive director of the center, issued this statement today (the bold-faced type is in the original):

“Nir Rosen is always provocative, but he crossed the line yesterday with his comments about Lara Logan. I am deeply distressed by what he wrote about Ms. Logan and strongly denounce his comments. They were cruel and insensitive and completely unacceptable. Mr. Rosen tells me that he misunderstood the severity of the attack on her in Cairo. He has apologized, withdrawn his remarks, and submitted his resignation as a fellow, which I have accepted. However, this in no way compensates for the harm his comments have inflicted. We are all horrified by what happened to Ms. Logan, and our thoughts are with her during this difficult time.”

(Greenberg’s reference to how provocative Rosen has been referred to his pro-Palestinian and pro-Arab political views. He has, for example, argued that “the weak” have a right to attack “the strong,” that Israel is “not a viable long-term project,” etc. )

Rosen’s tweets on Logan more than crossed a line. They were more than cruel and insensitive. They revealed a perverted view of the world that has no place at any university, much less a prestigious one. Differences of opinion — even extreme ones — are one thing, welcome at an educational institution. Misogyny and distortions of reality are quite another.

New York University’s Center on Law and Security should have been far stronger in its actions regarding Rosen. For heaven’s sake, the reality show “Top Chef” is tougher on its losing chefs. NYU should have told him to pack his bags and go.

A comparison

For the sake of comparison, and to let us decide about who is, in Strauss’s words, “distorting reality,” here is an arbitrarily-selected excerpt from Rosen’s “pro-Palestinian and pro-Arab views,” from the link Strauss herself provides above:

An American journal once asked me to contribute an essay to a discussion on whether terrorism or attacks against civilians could ever be justified. My answer was that an American journal should not be asking whether attacks on civilians can ever be justified. This is a question for the weak, for the Native Americans in the past, for the Jews in Nazi Germany, for the Palestinians today, to ask themselves.

Terrorism is a normative term and not a descriptive concept. An empty word that means everything and nothing, it is used to describe what the Other does, not what we do. The powerful – whether Israel, America, Russia or China – will always describe their victims’ struggle as terrorism, but the destruction of Chechnya, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, the slow slaughter of the remaining Palestinians, the American occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan – with the tens of thousands of civilians it has killed … these will never earn the title of terrorism, though civilians were the target and terrorising them was the purpose.

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