by Behrouz Saba
Wealth and power win every time over poverty and vulnerability. Just look no further than the “sudden turn of events” in the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case. The world is shocked – shocked – to learn that a single immigrant African mother who scrubs hotel toilet bowls and changes soiled bed sheets may have a checkered past of alleged immigration fraud, tax fraud and money laundering. Put almost any American household under the same magnifying glass, and there is bound to appear matters large and small that its members would rather keep to themselves.
This fact has been most dramatically demonstrated during the long Casey Anthony trial as her family, with its lily white, all-American Ozzy and Harriet façade, has proven to be anything but. Just as the jurors in that case must disregard a mountain of evidence pointing to Casey’s many misdeeds to decide on her guilt or innocence in a capital case, the sexual assault allegations against Strauss-Kahn must also be decided on their own merit regardless of the witness’s “credibility.”
The chamber maid may be fined, imprisoned or deported for her alleged crimes, yet she has every right to face in court the man who is her alleged sexual assailant.
The case, above all, sheds light on Strauss-Kahn’s infinite stupidity as a man who was at the helm of the International Monetary Fund and a contender in the approaching French presidential elections. The “romance” of alleged sex with an attractive black woman not only blinded him to his own position and promise, but also the probability of the woman’s troubled past.
Perhaps he thought he was in a quaint French chateau in Flaubert’s time where a roll in the hay with the rosy-cheeked cleaning girl from the village was unconditionally approved as a sign of virility and spirit. A world traveler who only saw the inside of first-class cabins and private jets, chauffeur-driven limousines and luxury hotel suites, he had no idea about the mean streets of New York where a thousand compromises of body and soul have to be made for the mere purpose of survival.
He stands as a symbol of the greater disconnect between world leaders in their milieus of power and plenty and the increasingly desperate people under their thumbs in a time of material struggle and moral uncertainty. The most vulnerable are immigrants and refugees, stateless persons and internally displaced people of whose plight Strauss-Kahn and his ilk know nothing more than bloodless statistics and flow charts.
There is something fundamentally wrong with our world, where Strauss-Kahn can afford millions in bail in the same city where immigrants, documented or undocumented, have to work at menial jobs, lie and cheat against their best moral instincts, and fear and hate every minute that they are alive.
To what end? So people who already have too much can afford even greater luxuries?
“The happy and powerful do not go into exile, and there are no surer guarantees of equality among men than poverty and misfortune,” Alexis de Tocqueville noted in “Democracy in America.” Strauss-Kahn can read it in its original French to realize that immigration leaves no one whole, healthy and intact. The glory of America resides in the will of women and men who have surmounted the agonies of exile, coming through Ellis Island and fashioning New York as the world capital of struggle and hope.
Strauss-Kahn’s contribution to this great current of history has been a despicable scene in a hotel room where the chamber maid allegedly spat out his semen on a wall – and the man is already regaining credibility as the next French president.
Shame on him. Shame on all of us as a nation of immigrants who let such a man walk free due to reservations by careerist attorney-politicians who are afraid of taking the wrong step against a man who might one day be even more powerful than he is. The right thing to do would have been to remand Strauss-Kahn to the custody of the state of New York – due to an abundance of evidence and circumstances – until the day he faces in an American court one Nafissatou Diallo, immigrant.