Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Apologies for feeding the troll… Brendan O’Neill on sexual harassment

BrendanONeillCartoon

I know you shouldn’t feed the troll, but professional contrarian twit Brendan O’Neill’s defence of sexual harasser Sam Kriss can only make a pretence of plausibility if you haven’t read the victim’s account.

O’Neill wrote: ‘Mr Kriss is accused by an anonymous person of repeatedly kissing and fondling her when they were on a date. She didn’t like it, which means he should have stopped or she should have gone home earlier. That’s a bad night out with a weirdo who doesn’t know how to court, not sexual assault.’

The victim-blaming is bad enough (‘she should have gone home earlier’), but O’Neill is being actively dishonest.

The victim wrote (in an account that Kriss has acknowledged is accurate): ‘Next, I felt Sam putting his arm round me. Phew, that’s better, some mild affection, not a mauling, I thought. Turns out he wasn’t putting his arm round me, but behind me, to place his hand on the back of my neck, so as to twist my head to face his, wherein, he again forcibly kissed me. This physically hurt.’

And: ‘After realising that I really wasn’t returning home with him, he began forcibly ‘snogging’ (I can hardly call it kissing given it was so aggressive) me at the bus stop. I turned my head away so it was out of reach, to which Sam started grabbing at my breasts with both hands. There were, rather mortifyingly, other people at the bus stop trying to ignore this scene. I felt so embarrassed, so I moved to the doorway behind the bus stop … this moving away was taken not as, ‘please leave me alone’, but as if I had gone to the doorway for us to have more privacy and thus intimacy. At this point Sam actually put his hands up underneath my top to touch my breasts. I protested with statements like, “Sam, seriously, can we not”, “we are outside on the street”, trying to remind him I was not ok with this, but not show any anger in case it escalated his behaviour.’

O’Neill has similarly doctored the facts regarding Rupert Myers’s sexual harassment of Kate Leaver. He writes: ‘For saying ‘I want to fuck you’ to a woman and then trying to kiss her (allegedly), Mr Myers has lost his journalistic jobs and been turned into a pariah.’ He presents it simply as a clumsy advance on Myers’s part, concealing from his readers the fact that Leaver had, according to her own account (as reported by Matthew Scott) explicitly already said ‘no’:

‘She told him that she wasn’t interested in a romantic relationship. She just wanted to be friends with him. Two weeks later they went to a pub in “Fitzrovia” for another drink. She again said that she wasn’t interested in a relationship, couldn’t they just be mates?

According to her he tried this line:

“I’ve got enough mates, I’d rather fuck you.”

Unsurprisingly this conversational gambit created more ice than it melted, and Ms Leaver decided to leave. He left too and just outside the pub he (to use her words) “forced himself” on her.

This is ambiguous. Only Leaver and Myers know exactly what happened, and because it took place two years ago even they have probably forgotten some of the detail. But she explained a bit more on a Radio 5 Live interview with Emma Barnett:

“He took that opportunity to ignore what I said, grabbed me and forced himself into a kissing situation and touching me inappropriately. … just on my body where I was not comfortable having his hands.”

She agreed with her interviewer that his hands were “wandering.”.’

Myers has not denied the allegations and has apologised for his behaviour. There may be a reasonable debate to be had on what sort of sanction someone should face in such situations, but those arguing for greater leniency are not helping their case by suppressing relevant facts.

Attention-seeking, un-PC trolling is what Spectator columnists do, and we should all try to ignore it as much as possible. But if they have to conceal evidence to make their trolling plausible, then that is a bit sad. For O’Neill, a bit like the old days at Living Marxism, which never refrained either from sneering at sexual assault victims or from shamelessly suppressing evidence.

PS This blog has been rather quiet in the last couple of years as I transferred my commentary to Facebook and Twitter, and no longer have time for many of the longer commentaries that I used to publish here. Consequently, to liven the blog up a bit and to give the wider public once again the benefit of my pearls of wisdom, I may start republishing my longer Facebook comments here – like this one.

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Sunday, 22 October 2017 Posted by | gender | , , , , | Leave a comment

Kinship and Elopement in Bosnia-Hercegovina

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Review of Keith Doubt, Through the Window: Kinship and Elopement in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Central European University Press, Budapest and New York, 2014, 158 +xvii pp.

‘The world has read much about the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, its horrible nature and unconscionable character’, writes Keith Doubt in his preface, ‘but the world has read less about Bosnia-Herzegovina itself’ (p. xii). Indeed, it is difficult for many of us to think of the country without thinking of the war that ended in 1995 and the political struggle that has continued ever since. One of my personal regrets, as a historian specialising in Bosnia-Herzegovina, is that I never knew the country as it existed before the war, particularly since many people who did, both natives and other foreigners, have described it as an idyll. I’ve been told more than once about how you could go skiing in the morning in the mountains around Sarajevo, then drive down to the coast for a swim in the afternoon. Very little is left of that idyll today.

Doubt has set out to shed light on the hidden or forgotten social relations of Bosnia-Hercegovina that existed before the war and continue to exist, and his book owes a large debt to the now-classic anthropological studies of William Lockwood and Tone Bringa. Specifically, he studies familial relations by focusing on the phenomenon of ‘elopement’, which as Svetlana Slapsak indicates in the foreword, does not have the same implications as it did in the pre-feminist era in other countries. Although elopement in Bosnia-Hercegovina does allow a woman to choose her marriage partner, it does not damage a woman’s reputation or that of her family but represents a socially acceptable norm. Indeed, Doubt links this to the greater importance of affinal kinship ties; i.e., those based on marriage rather than blood. It is often supposed that the ancestors of today’s Bosniaks, or Bosnian Muslims, had essentially the same culture as those of the Serbs or Croats until this was altered by Ottoman Islamic occupation. But according to Lockwood, as cited by Doubt: ‘Muslim peasants of Bosnia give much less emphasis to patrilineality and to groups based on patrilineal kinship than do either the Croats or (especially) the Serbs… The slack seems to be taken up by an increased emphasis on affinal relations.’ (Doubt, pp. 97-98). Paradoxically, in this regard, Serbs and Croats are culturally closer to Turks than any of these are to Bosniaks, for the Turks share with the former, but not with the latter, an agnatic kinship structure that defines family and community.

This observation emphasises the distinctiveness of an autochthonous Bosniak culture, distinct from both the wider Serbo-Croat and post-Ottoman neighbourhoods. It perhaps stands in tension, however, with observations that Doubt makes later, that emphasise Bosnian commonalities: ‘The emphasis on establishing affinal relations is not only a cultural custom of Bosniaks, but also a cultural custom of Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Serbs’ (p. 123). Doubt supports this assertion by reference to a survey, which indicates that even in the present day, the two sets of parents of a married couple (i.e. those of a husband and of a wife) visit each other frequently: about two thirds or three fifths of those questioned indicated that their parents visited each other at least four times a year, with very minor differences in the rate for the three nationalities.

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Keith Doubt

Thus, Doubt’s research powerfully illustrates the distinctiveness of both Bosnian and Bosniak culture, and the richness of its heritage. It would not be possible in this review to do justice to the complexity and nuance of Doubt’s interdisciplinary study and discussion. They provide an antidote to the facile tendency among some observers, and not only foreign ones, to assume that the cultural differences between Bosnian Serbs, Croats and Muslims can be reduced to religious ones, and the book sensitively discusses the relationship between ethnic culture and religion, though the latter features only slightly in it.

Doubt ends by overstating somewhat the extent to which the Bosnian commonality and identity have been neglected by scholars and remain obscure; they have, in fact, been explored and written about in various ways by many different scholars, myself included. If we do not have a more complete picture of what makes Bosnians specifically ‘Bosnian’, this is probably because non-native scholarship about the country is still relatively underdeveloped in general, rather than due to a particular neglect of this topic. In fact, almost any scholar not completely blinded by an ideological agenda, and indeed almost any visitor who spends any length of time in the country and its neighbours, will be aware that Bosnia-Hercegovina and its people are distinctive, and that the Bosnian Serbs and Croats and the lands they inhabit are not simply indistinguishable from their counterparts in Serbia and Croatia. Doubt argues that as long as the common Bosnian gemeinschaft, particularly gemeinschaft of kin, is sustained, then ‘the future of Bosnia-Herzegovina is promising’ (p. 135). But he also notes that the cultural phenomenon of elopement, on which the book focuses, is in decline and faces extinction.

Thus, as this book suggests, though Bosnia-Hercegovina’s statehood is badly broken and its citizens politically divided along ethno-nationalist lines, shared common traditional cultural practices, albeit in decline, bear witness to the fact that the country continues to exist. Of course, this begs many questions, such as whether these cultural practices differ significantly between the different regions of Bosnia-Hercegovina, how much other traditional Bosnian cultural practices differ from those in Serbia, Croatia and Montenegro, and what the implications are of the continued decline of these various practices for Bosnia-Hercegovina’s long-term survival. This fascinating little book does not provide all the answers, but it does suggest a lot of original ways of looking for them.

Monday, 24 August 2015 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, gender | , , , | Leave a comment