Over 300,000 accounts of sexual harassment or abuse were published under the French Twitter tag, #balancetonporc, following the Harvey Weinstein scandal. That point seems to be lost on both supporters and opponents of one man accused of wrongdoing.
His most rabid opponents see it as an opportunity to deflect criticism of society-wide, deeply engrained misogyny, onto one man and his faith. His fanatical supporters meanwhile, view it as a case in isolation, stripped of the context of a worldwide protest against harassment and abuse.
Caught between apologists and haters, we are left with two extremes. Activists, normally extraordinarily vocal in decrying alleged attacks on Muslim women, have decided that these alleged victims are unworthy of their sympathy or support, while haters — normally silent — have suddenly become their champions.
On both extremes it is a vast conspiracy, either of omnipotent Zionists or Islamofascists. It is no longer about one man accused of appalling abuse by three women — and the graphic allegations are indeed horrific — but a political battleground between warring factions who couldn’t give a stuff about the women involved. For both sides are silent about the other 300,000 accounts of harassment and abuse in France, or the millions more worldwide.
If there are real victims here, their voices are quickly being drowned out by the polarised voices defending different political camps. The accused is either absolutely, evidently innocent, or doubtlessly guilty. One camp has confused the presumption of innocence with vindication. The other has confused testimony with proof of guilt.
A court may or may not get to the truth, or may simply throw out the case due to contempt of court, because too much has already been said in public which prejudices the case before a jury: evidence for the already-decided that the Islamists hold too much sway over a politically-correct society. If the court finds the accused guilty, meanwhile, the spectre of that great conspiracy will remain: Islamophobia and racism will be invoked, and of course that worldwide Zionist conspiracy that haunts Muslim activists everywhere.
Already it has nothing to do with alleged sexual violence, abuse, harassment or intimidation; already it is highly politicised and charged. Those alleging abuse have already become invisible, to the loud clamouring voices on both sides.
In any other case where a disabled Muslim convert alleged a horrific assault at the hands of her attacker, Muslim social media would be awash with rage on her behalf — without waiting to verify the facts, corroborate her testimony or confirm that it really happened. But here: silence. Not a peep. In fact the reverse: the allegations are all politically motivated, driven by a lust for fame, to increase book sales. And yes, they could be, but when has that ever stopped us advocating on behalf of alleged victims before?
Sadly extremists on all sides have decided that only some alleged victims matter: that advocacy and justice is conditional. And yes, I say extremists, even for people who until now I would have considered moderate and level-headed, for there has been nothing moderate about the response to this matter.
Daily on social media, in the news and in society more widely, we see accusations being made publicly — about assaults on Muslim women, about racist incidents, about crimes against humanity, about murders, about corruption — long before a court has passed judgment or facts have been proved. But all of a sudden we are all for due process, for our side anyway; for those we oppose, well anything goes.
Are we required to pronounce the accused guilty merely because allegations have been made? Of course not. But are we meant to take the allegations seriously? Well we would in any other case, where we would say that an investigation has to take place, to try to establish if there is any truth to the allegations or not. But instead it has been turned into a battle for civilisation, between proponents of a world in which Muslims are allowed to contribute to society, and in which Muslims are for the most part banished and criminalised.
It has been willingly transformed from a matter concerning one man and the allegations made against him, into a profound game of us and them, in which we all supposedly have vested interests. If he falls, argue his supporters, we all fall. And likewise: if he falls, argue his opponents, they all fall. But in reality it is not a battle of cultural supremacy: it is about one man facing extremely serious allegations, like hundreds of thousands of others, brought to life in the context of a vast campaign to speak out about sexual harassment and abuse worldwide.
What started out as an attack on ingrained mysoginy in French society has become a battle for opposing visions of public life. Some who seem willing to absolve the chauvinist attitudes of many French men towards women — French men just love women too much, they say — have suddenly found themselves unlikely champions of women usually scorned. They are not defenders of these Muslim women really, though they delight in their unveiling: they merely consider them useful weapons in a larger battle. Perhaps the counter-reaction is understandable then, but it is certainly not judicious.
Fair-minded people know that not every allegation is true, that not every witness is reliable, that not every complainant is honest. Likewise, fair-minded people are well aware that the accused could be just as easily innocent as guilty. They know that miscarriages of justice occur, that innocent people can be slandered and falsely accused of wrongdoing. They accept that such cases are not clearcut and easily defined, and know not to pronounce guilt or innocence. What is preventing the rest of us from being fair; to be just even against ourselves, or against the rich or poor or our beloveds? What prevents us from doing as we are commanded: to stand persistently for justice come what may?