French libertines, American Puritans, devout Muslims

On Sunday, the head of the International Monetary Fund was arrested in connection with the alleged sexual assault of a maid at the Sofitel hotel in midtown Manhattan. And not just any head of the IMF but the man who was widely expected to become the Socialist candidate for the French presidency, Dominique Strauss-Kahn. There are many details to this story. He was pulled out of the first-class section of an Air France jet just as it was supposed to take off. (Who knew that socialists stayed in $3,000-a-night hotels and flew first class? Actually, we all probably knew that.) He may have fled the hotel and seems to have lost his cell phone in the process. He was successfully identified in a line-up and is now being held at Rikers.

Once the allegations came out, other stories of sexual assault did, too. He had been known to cross the line with employees but apparently this wasn't a problem for the beacon of ethics that is the IMF. And perhaps most intriguingly for the conspiracy theorists in all of us, there are many whispers that this particular allegation was the result of a political set-up. We'll see.

There were a few stories that came near religion angles, but not quite. I rather enjoyed this Atlantic piece which showed how foreign media are essentially blaming "women" for Strauss-Kahn's troubles. And there are interesting stories about how aghast the French are at our judicial system. Eva Joly, leader of the French Green Party who is expected to run for in next year’s presidential election, was upset that our legal system "doesn’t distinguish between the director of the I.M.F. and any other suspect." So there are interesting cultural angles about how what we consider features are looked at as bugs by other folks.

But is there any religion angle? Who knows, at this point, the outcome of this case? But as soon as I heard the other harrowing tales from women who'd encountered Strauss-Kahn's aggressiveness, I thought of the late 1990s when various elites were telling Americans to just be more French in our attitudes about sex.

Dan Bilefsky of The New York Times was able to incorporate a bit of that old culture war issue in his piece on "The French Reaction to I.M.F. Chief's Arrest":

Others cautioned against premature announcements of Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s political demise, and noted that France was far less puritanical than the United States when it came to the sexual misdeeds, however egregious, of its politicians. Brice Teinturier, chief pollster of Ipsos in France, told the I.H.T. that the recent images of Mr. Strauss-Kahn getting out of the flashy Porsche of a former adviser had prompted predictions that his approval ratings would tumble during a period of economic depression. “Instead, they rose even further,” Mr. Teinturier said.

Gilles Savary, a member of the European Parliament who belongs to Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s Socialist Party, wrote on his blog that the arrest of Mr. Strauss-Kahn had hints of American-style hypocrisy. “Everyone knows that Dominique Strauss-Kahn is a libertine, and that he is distinguished from others by the fact that he doesn’t try and hide it,” he wrote. “In puritanical American, infiltrated by rigorous Protestantism, financial misdeeds are far more tolerated than pleasures of the flesh.”

And here's another religion angle, as reported by the New York Daily News:

Meanwhile, neighbors of the maid described her as an "extremely quiet," French-speaking immigrant from the West African nation of Guinea who lives with her teen daughter in The Bronx.

"She is extremely quiet. She only smiles at certain people," said neighbor Mark Gangadeen, adding that she wears a head scarf.

Another neighbor, Assetou Kamara, 33, said the woman is a devout Muslim.

So it appears we have some interesting angles worth exploring. I'm not anxious for a revisit of the Clinton-era battles on which country handles sexual mores better, but I hope the media are at least consistent in exploring the benefits and negative consequences of each.

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