Dominique Strauss-Kahn: a modern-day scapegoat

In the past, backward villagers would invest a goat with the sins of the village and then cast it out. Feminists tried the same trick with DSK.

Tim Black

Tim Black

Topics Politics

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Dominique Strauss-Kahn – you remember him, don’t you? Yeah, that’s the one, the French politician. The one who had been raping women for years. Apparently he only got away with it because the French press and politicians approve of that kind of thing. They think it’s macho, you see; they reckon it’s just what males in powerful positions do. Well not anymore. Not since he was caught red-handed in New York earlier this year.

The above is not true of course. But it would be difficult to blame anyone for thinking it was given the venting of prejudice and sheer speculation-as-fact that followed the arrest of the former IMF director and French politician in May this year.

It made for a frenzied spectacle. When DSK was accused of sexual assault by a 32-year-old hotel maid, Nafissatou Diallo, liberal and illiberal commentators rushed in to find him guilty until proven innocent. And as far as Strauss-Kahn’s self-appointed judge, jury and executioner were concerned, why the heck not? After all, he was French, male and a politician. And everybody knows that a) the French mistake rape for seduction, b) males are little more than ‘rutting chimpanzees’, and c) politicians can’t help but abuse their power. Put that lot together in the shape of DSK, and you have got all the prejudice-cum-evidence you need for a conviction.

Fortunately, for anyone with a sense of justice, before the US judiciary can lock someone up it does actually have to be proven ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that he or she is guilty of a crime. This was clearly not something of which Strauss-Kahn’s prosecutors were convinced. And so yesterday they asked for all charges to be dropped. They said that, yes, there was a evidence of a ‘hurried sexual encounter’, but that alone does not prove that it was a ‘non-consensual encounter’. Moreover, they became suspicious of Diallo herself following a taped conversation she held with a jailed friend about Strauss-Kahn’s wealth plus ‘inconsistent’ accounts of her own background.

The whole tawdry affair looks to be petering out to a rather murky conclusion. Still, whatever else DSK might or might not have done, he has undoubtedly performed one vital function. That of the scapegoat. Historically, scapegoating referred to the ritual of investing an animal, a goat say, with the sins of the village, and then casting the burdened animal out. DSK, so-called, seems to have served a similar function. Strauss-Kahn was to be symbolically sent out of the community, taking the sins of men, especially French political ones, with him.

Nowhere was this strangely modern ritual more apparent than in the so-called perp walk. Introduced by FBI director Edgar Hoover in the 1920s to bolster public support for prosecutions, and used most famously with mobsters Alvin Karpis and Harry Campbell, it involves tipping off the press that the accused is about to be moved from one location to another. So as the ‘perp’ is walking between, for example, the jail and the police station, photographers appear to snap the accused in all their humiliation and shame. Yet although the perp walk has a long, ignoble, not to mention justice-thwarting history, it only really came into its own under then US attorney Rudolph Giuliani (a future mayor of New York) who, during the 1980s Wall Street-insider trading scandals, transformed it into a deliberately unceremonious ceremony. For example, in February 1987, handcuffed trader Richard Wigton was photographed weeping as he was marched from the trading floor of Kidder, Peabody & Co.

The purpose of the perp walk is worryingly clear. From the handcuffs to the embarrassment induced in the accused, we are encouraged to see the guilt before it has been proved. It is a spectacle designed to elicit condemnation – regardless of whether that condemnation is deserved or not. Strauss-Kahn’s perp walk was no exception. Snapped in all his handcuffed, unshaven and fallen-faced infamy as he was taken to a police station to be charged, the watching world was invited to see him as guilty, his sullen shame writ large in every defensive stride.

Not that those who are all-too-willing to see the sins of man everywhere needed much of an invitation. Out the pre-judgements gushed, as lacking in evidence as they were foundation. In the Guardian one columnist took it for granted that Strauss-Kahn was a rapist. His trial was simply to be an education for men everywhere. ‘Rape is painful, demeaning and destructive’, she argued. ‘Why is this so difficult for some people – including some influential men – to understand?’ Elsewhere in the same newspaper, it was also taken for granted that this was nothing less than men’s ‘sexual behaviour’ in the dock.

Strauss-Kahn was not just bearing the sins of libidinous mankind, however, he was also a invested with the supposed guilt of a complicit French culture, one that condones and celebrates men’s power over women. ‘Laws in France have worked to protect an elite of powerful white men both on the left and right’, wrote Suzanne Moore in the Mail on Sunday. In the Independent, the French press’s blind eye was attacked: ‘The British media may be guilty of being too prurient about the private activities of politicians; the French media is too supine.’ Over in France itself, Caroline de Haas, head of the group Osez le Feminisme, was clearly delighted that finally French society, riven with an abusive patriarchy, was being indicted: ‘The DSK affair show[s] that women were fed up with inequalities and machismo of French society.’

On and on this stuff was churned out, with Strauss-Kahn both the prompt and the object. There was seemingly no preconception about the vileness of men, the victimhood of women or the cesspit of sexist abuse otherwise known as France that was not lobbed at DSK, the man firmly secured in the global village stocks. That none of it was necessarily true did not matter. More scandalously, that Strauss-Kahn’s own guilt was far from established seemed to have escaped his projecting and venting persecutors.

And now? With the charges dropped, and no Trial of Man likely to be forthcoming, L’affaire DSK has turned into Le damp squib DSK. There will be no mea culpa from those whose sheer prejudice led them to trash the notion of justice. For his self-styled prosecutors, Strauss-Kahn, a rather diminished figure, has served his function as a scapegoat. And besides, they know – just know – that regardless of the outcome of this particular case, the male, especially the French political male, is still as guilty as sin.

Tim Black is senior writer at spiked.

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Topics Politics


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