'Beauty Shop': Work In War Zones And Life With Kids
MICHEL MARTIN (Host): I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Now, normally at this time we'd be heading off to the Barbershop right about now, but we heard from the guys earlier this week. So today we decided to headed to the Beauty Shop instead, and hear what the ladies have to say about the news of the week. Joining us in the shop today, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon. She is author of the New York Times best seller "The Dressmaker of Khair Khana." That is the true story of how a remarkable woman managed to take care of her family and herself under the Taliban. Gayle's also a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and she's joining us from NPR West in Culver City, California. Hi, Gayle.
GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON: Hi, Michel.
MARTIN: Also with us here in our Washington, D.C. studios, Jamie Tarabay, managing editor on national security for the National Journal. You will recognize that name from her time here at NPR, where she was Baghdad bureau chief, among other assignments. Hi, Jamie.
JAMIE TARABAY: Hi.
MARTIN: And also with us, Mona Eltahawy. She is a very well-known columnist and speaker. She focuses particularly on politics and culture in the Arab and Muslim world. And she's also here in Washington, D.C. Welcome, Mona. Thank you for joining us.
MONA ELTAHAWY: Hi, Michel, thanks.
MARTIN: We're very excited because Mona and I have been interviewing for years, and I've never met her before - and she's here.
And also with us, on the phone from Cairo, is Hannah Allam, Cairo bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers. Hannah, welcome to you.
HANNAH ALLAM: Hello.
MARTIN: Now, of course, obviously, the story dominating the headlines in this country was the death of Osama bin Laden. So Hannah, I am dying to ask you how this story is being covered in Egypt right now.
ALLAM: Well, Ive just come, this afternoon, from a protest of a few hundred people outside of one of the main mosques here in Cairo, and this was kind of a mourning service for Osama bin Laden. But I have to stress that this is a few hundred people in a country of about 85 million. And even the small group that, you know, proceeded to march on to the U.S. embassy - and they were chanting against Obama, President Obama, and U.S. policy in general - even they met resistance from fellow Egyptians along the way, with people saying, you know, how silly of you - you're mourning a terrorist. Don't we have bigger things to worry about?
And so, you know, definitely some small pockets here of sympathy for him. But I think people have seen now that through protests and civil disobedience, they can do more harm to these repressive regimes than al-Qaida ever did. That being said, as long as there's - I think that al-Qaida's general message as a, you know, self-proclaimed defender of Muslims and Arabs, I think that message will resonate in some quarters as long as there's foreign occupation, rather lopsided U.S. approach on the Israeli-a Palestinian conflict and these repressive regimes that of course, ordinary people now are working to get rid of.
MARTIN: One of the things many people were saying is that these Arab Spring uprisings have really taken all the glory away from al-Qaida. They, in fact, are what made al-Qaida yesterday's news already.
ELTAHAWY: Absolutely. I mean, I've been saying that Osama bin Laden's physical death has finally caught up with his symbolic death, that I believe happened many years ago - largely for the reasons that Hannah already mentioned, about these revolutions and uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. When you look at a country like Yemen, where al-Qaida does have a presence, Yemenis have gone out onto the street to overthrow Ali Abdullah Saleh - not using weapons, not following al-Qaida's lead, not even involving al-Qaida in their revolution.
And Yemen is one of the most armed societies in the Middle East and North Africa. And not one bullet has been fired from the Yemeni revolutionaries, which clearly states to us, you know, if we want to see - because we really do want to see this about people in the Middle East and North Africa - that those revolutionaries in Yemen, in the same way that revolutionaries in Egypt and Tunisia and other places - look at Syria today - don't believe that al-Qaida will get rid of these repressive regimes. They believe that their own will and their own courage will do so.
MARTIN: Gayle, what about you? I know that you've spent a lot of time in Afghanistan. Obviously, you're here in the U.S. at the moment, but what is your sense of how this news is being received there, from what your sources are telling you?
LEMMON: Sure. I mean, I think there's real concern about what this means for the international effort in Afghanistan. You know, a lot of people, particularly women, that you talk to remember 1989 when the Russians left and the country fell into, several years later, a really brutal civil war that raged from 1992 to 1996, when the Taliban came into Kabul.
And so I think that is what people wonder is, what comes next? What does this mean? Will the U.S. and the international community pull up stakes before our own security forces are ready? Will this be a way for people to withdraw with some face saved, but not a lot of progress made on the ground? I think that that's one of the things you hear often in Afghanistan.
MARTIN: Jamie, what do you want to add? You spent so much time in Baghdad, and I know you're here stateside now.
MARTIN: But I'm just interested in what you think. What is next in the parts of the world that you spent most of your time?
TARABAY: Well, you know, I do think that, along with Gayle, that we will see a more accelerated withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan now, much more than it was maybe a week ago. But, you know, I just, I have to agree with Mona - the message that bin Laden and al-Qaida were projecting, let's not forget that in many of the attacks that they launched, their victims were Muslim, and their message was rejected by so many people.
And the Arab Spring that we're seeing just tell - it was biggest message of all to say: We dont actually want to return to a 7th century caliphate. We actually want to live in the now, and we want to have the liberties and the opportunities that everybody else is doing. And there's been no greater sort of validation of that than what's happening - and as you pointed out, with, you know, as little violence as possible.
MARTIN: Well, Mona was making that point, that these uprisings - I mean, obviously, Libya is an ongoing, you know, story. Syria is an ongoing story. But what started it all, Tunisia and Egypt - largely nonviolent. But there was this - there was brutality within the movement. And one of the stories that I think got a lot of attention here in the United States was that of involving CBS chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan, who was just viciously assaulted in Tahrir Square last February, you know, after the government had already fallen, while people were in a celebratory state - which is, I think, kind of what shocked a lot of people.
I think a lot of people felt that had this occurred when, you know, pro-government forces were still trying to push back, you could have seen this as an attack on the idea that, you know, these foreigners are supporting the demonstrators. But this happened after the - Mubarak had stepped down.
And she talked about this on 60 Minutes' earlier this week, and it was very hard to hear, particularly if you know her. But I'll just play a short clip, and I'm not going to play the most graphic part of it in deference to those who may be listening. But I'll just play a short clip of what she experienced. Here it is.
(Soundbite of TV show "60 Minutes")
LARA LOGAN: They were tearing my body in every direction at this point, tearing my muscles, and they were trying to tear off chunks of my scalp. They had my head in different directions.
MARTIN: You know, one of the reasons we're excited to have all of you with us today, besides the fact that you're so fabulous...
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: ....is that - goes without saying - is that all of you have spent a lot of time in the trenches. I mean, Jamie and Hannah, you both reported from Baghdad during the Iraq War. Mona, you've been a reporter, you know, for, you know, since you were a baby.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: You reported in the Middle East for, you know, a decade. Gayle, you spent lots of time in Afghanistan and in Rwanda. And there are those who wonder whether this is kind of a breakthrough moment in the sense that, you know, Jamie, I'll just start with you. Many people say that reporters generally have not talked about what they experienced in field, because they then dont want to - they dont want to be kept out of the fray. And I wonder how you react to A, what happened to Lara and, you know, B, her decision now to talk about it.
TARABAY: I have so many feelings about this and, you know, my heart just goes out to Lara. And, I mean, the fact that she was so brave to speak out, you know - I, you know, I've had that fear of that sort of thing happening to me, but I've never had that pain. So I've been really thankful that I've never been in the situation that she found herself in.
But the thing that struck me the most about this whole thing, from when she first was actually brave enough to say, this happened to me, was the response that we heard from people who were saying: How could this have happened to her? You know, she's an A-lister. She's, like, she's so important and she's so famous, and how can this happen? And I want to say, it does happen. And if Lara couldnt speak out with the position that she has, and the celebrity that she has, then what's, you know, what is left of the lowest sort of, you know, wire reporter on the bottom of the rung who has this happen to them all the time without the attention, and has to simply carry on?
MARTIN: I'm puzzled by that - I'm puzzled by many of the reactions, frankly.
TARABAY: No. The...
MARTIN: Because frankly, I mean, she's not an A-lister in Egypt. I mean, so I don't understand that. What does it mean?
TARABAY: You know, that she has an entourage. She has security. She has people who travel with her. So she's, you know, how could this happen to her, of all people? But the response to me was, well, it happens. And you have to, whether you have people protecting you or you don't, you are a female, and these are some of the things that you have to come across. But, you know, she's never going to get fired for coming out and saying these things. And maybe it took somebody like Lara to say - to sort of open the floodgates for other people to say: Actually, this has happened to me, too.
MARTIN: Hannah, what do you think about it?
ALLAM: Well, to have it, you know, play out right here in Egypt at such a time of celebration, I think it was so shocking to people. And in addition to the people who immediately attacked her and questioned, you know, what could she have done to have drawn this attack on her - and all of that nonsense. I mean, there are also people just really deeply sad that it happened and embarrassed that it happened and considered it, you know, tarnishing of the revolution, because Tahrir Square had been such a little sanctuary amid all the brutality from the state-allied mobs.
But I think it just goes to show that mob violence, it can - I mean, I often think of it as far more dangerous and more terrifying than the bombs and bullets and teargas, and other things that I encounter on my job, that - because those mobs can turn instantly and really, in seconds, from even a celebratory mood to a very violent mob that's out to do you harm.
And even if you have a professional bodyguard with you, and a whole team and two drivers, that doesn't mean much when there's this swell of people rushing at you and grabbing at you and tearing at you. And I think it just is part and parcel of this job we do. But the fact that now that we can, you know, perhaps talk about it more openly is something that I think we should be grateful to Lara Logan for, for bravely giving her account.
MARTIN: Mona, what do you think?
ELTAHAWY: I have a million and one feelings about this. I think, you know, I know a young Muslim woman in Canada who says, you know, as Muslim women, I speak as an Egyptian and a Muslim woman: We often feel caught between the racists and the misogynists. And this all came out after Lara Logan bravely spoke out. But I have to disagree with a lot of people who are saying she's the first one who spoke out; shes the first one. You know, I unequivocally condemn what happened to her. It's horrendous. It's heartbreaking. But there have been so many Egyptian women who have spoken out about the sexual assaults that they've faced at the hands of the Mubarak regime, and while reporting in Egypt, that I know. I was, my...
MARTIN: You mean on the street, or you mean left - by security forces in a...
ELTAHAWY: Oh, by everything.
ELTAHAWY: By security forces, by regular people. I - my nipple was twisted during a news conference with Gadhafi. One Gadhafi's bodyguards just reached out and just assaulted my breast in the middle of a news conference, and I've written about that. And I just say that because it bothers me that we're thinking that, you know - again I state, you know, I condemn what happened to her. But Lara's not the first person who's spoken out about this.
And I say this because sometimes it feels to me, as the Egyptian Muslim woman, that it's only when a white woman speaks out about something that we recognize it happened. And Egyptian women have been speaking out, and women in the Middle East, in North Africa and other parts of the world, have talked about what it's like to be a woman and face all these things as a journalist, too, but we never listen to them. But we only now listen because Lara has said it.
MARTIN: Who's the we in this conversation, though? Because there are conversations you have internally, and there are conversations you have with other, you know, outside, you know, the world. So, you know, one of the things I find is that often, when Western reporters want to report on these issues in other countries, they're attacked for being racist - like, oh, you're bringing your, you know, your attitude over here, and we dont want to hear it from you.
MARTIN: So - and why wouldnt Americans be particularly interested in what happens to one of their country women? I mean, I'm a little puzzled by: Who is the we?
ELTAHAWY: The we is the media. And I think it's the media that also doesn't want to hear the women there - the indigenous women - when they speak out. It's fine when they're reporting about those indigenous women. But when the indigenous women are themselves saying this is what happens, and we want to highlight this. Do you see what I'm saying? It's the other way that the information flows.
MARTIN: But shouldn't the Egyptian media be reporting on this about Egypt -something that happens? I mean...
ELTAHAWY: It has.
MARTIN: ...I want to tell you that - go ahead, Gayle.
ALLAM: I need to jump in here.
MARTIN: Go ahead.
ALLAM: I've been reporting on violence against Egyptian women for, you know, for years here. From...
MARTIN: That's Hannah, for example. That's Hannah Allam.
ALLAM: ...everything - Hannah - everything from female genital mutilation to the sexual harassment maps that they're trying, to start to pinpoint, where, you know, some of the worst spots are in Cairo for the harassment. So, absolutely, Mona's right. It's something that's been talked about for years. I think this highlights - Lara Logan's story highlights some of the different obstacles faced by foreign women coming to cover these protests. So - but, I mean, that's not at all to take away from some of the daily suffering of Egyptian women.
I mean, you can't walk down the street without getting cat-called or the, you know, whispered, filthy remarks or whatever. And it really doesn't matter if you're veiled or blonde or what.
MARTIN: Or what. I know. I remember - I haven't been in Egypt for years, but one of the things that floored me when I went there, you know, foolishly, on my own on a - I was breaking off from a reporting trip elsewhere in the region, and I decided to go just because I was there, that people thought they just can come right up and touch you anywhere. And I, you know, confess that I - this was, you know, years ago, but I had no idea that this was - and people would say well, what did you expect? Well, not that. I confess.
Gayle, what about you? You know, one of the interesting things that, you know, youve spent so much time in Afghanistan - one of the things I'm interested in, in the reporting, is that a lot of women in the West have really tried to keep the focus on Afghani women and what their circumstances are, and that is not always appreciated. What are your reactions here?
LEMMON: Well, I think two things. One is that, of course it's incredibly heartbreaking, and I do think it's very courageous of her to go on 60 Minutes and talk about this. But I thought one of the other things that was interesting was the reaction that a lot of the people in the public had - which was, well, why was she there in the first place? And I think that is just outrageous. I mean...
MARTIN: Do you think that's because she's a woman, or because she's a mother?
LEMMON: Yeah. Oh, absolutely. Both.
MARTIN: Because she's a woman or because she's a mother?
LEMMON: Both. Both. And, I mean, look, Anderson Cooper was assaulted. And no one said: Why was Anderson Cooper in Cairo? You know, I mean, when it happened that it was Lara Logan, the question's almost immediately on the Internet and on blogs - and the blogosphere was, you know, well, should she have been there? Well, that's her job. And, you know, I wrote this piece about it for the Huffington Post because there was a really powerful interview that she'd given right before, talking about - she got on the plane, talking about how she had just talked to her husband about the decision to go back to Egypt.
And I think that every reporter who goes into tough zones - wherever you are in the world - if you have a family, you have that conversation, and it's a very personal conversation. And, you know, I was giving a book talk recently, and this woman actually came out and said, well, don't you think it's irresponsible that you would go back Afghanistan now that you're a mom?
MARTIN: And you said?
LEMMON: I said, do you ask that two male reporters when they're up here talking about their experiences? And she said, it's different.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: Well, OK. Does she still have her hair?
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: I mean, did you snatch it off her head? I'm just speaking of did you - does she still have her - well, thank you all, ladies. I hate to end on that - well, I'm glad we ended on that spicy note. I want to say happy Mother's Day to the mothers. Happy Human Day to the humans.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: And thank you all so much for being with us. That was Gayle Tzemach Lemmon. She was with us from NPR West. She's the author of the New York Times best seller The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, and she's a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. With us from Cairo, Hannah Allam. She is the Cairo bureau chief from McClatchy Newspapers. Here with us in our Washington, D.C. studio, Mona Eltahawy, a columnist, a very well-known columnist and speaker, and she was here with Jamie Tarabay, managing editor on national security for the National Journal, and our former and much-loved NPR Baghdad bureau chief.
MARTIN: Ladies, thank you all so much.
TARABAY: Thank you.
ELTAHAWY: Thank you.
ALLAM: Thank you.
LEMMON: Thank you.
(Soundbite of music)
MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Let's talk more on Monday.
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