Monday, December 18, 2017

What Should You Do When Linda Sarsour is Accused of Covering Up Sexual Harassment? Investigate It!

Some of you might have seen a Daily Caller article reporting on a former employee at the Arab American Association who accused Linda Sarsour, then the AAA's Executive Director, of enabling sexual harassment against her in the workplace.

Some of you might not have seen it, because thus far it has basically only been picked up by other sites within the conservative bubble (the only non-right-wing site I've seen running the story is Newsweek).

And that's a shame. Not in the cheap shot, "where are you on this, lib-tards!" sort of way, but because the story deserves to be investigated by a real media source in order to figure out what's going on.

The Daily Caller, after all, is not the most credible of sources. And the author of the piece is Benny Johnson, whom you might recall got fired from Buzzfeed due to repeated acts of plagiarism. So it's not per se unreasonable to cock an eyebrow at the veracity of the story.

That said, aside from the website and the byline, there are quite a few factors about the story which are significant indicia of credibility. There is a named accuser on the record, Asmi Fathelbab, who likewise names a specific harasser, Majed Seif. Fathelbab gives details on her employment at the AAA and when and how it ended, these can all be easily verified. Likewise, other reporters could presumably find the same sources that the Caller did who corroborate Fathelbab's story.

Fathelbab also appears to have a twitter account. Up until the last few days, when she posted about this story, it had lain dormant since 2016 -- her last tweet was a retweet: "Sarah Palin endorses Donald Trump. The bible says these two names in the same sentence signifies the end times." She wasn't the most active contributor to social media, but it doesn't seem like she was in the tank for the right.

To give you a flavor of what the accusations are, here are some details from the Caller's story:
The problems began in early 2009 when a man named Majed Seif, who lived in the same building where the Arab American Association offices are located, allegedly began stalking Fathelbab.
“He would sneak up on me during times when no one was around, he would touch me, you could hear me scream at the top of my lungs,” Asmi Fathelbab tells TheDC. “He would pin me against the wall and rub his crotch on me.”
Asmi claims one of Majed’s alleged favorite past times was sneaking up on her with a full erection.
“It was disgusting,” she tells The Caller. “I ran the youth program in the building and with that comes bending down and talking to small children. You have no idea what it was like to stand up and feel that behind you. I couldn’t scream because I didn’t want to scare the child in front of me. It left me shaking.” 
The Daily Caller was provided with a link to Seif’s Facebook page and confirmed his identity, location and employment. 
Fathelbab says she went to leadership at the organization to report the sexual assault. She alleges she was dismissed by Sarsour outright. “She called me a liar because ‘Something like this didn’t happen to women who looked like me,'” Asmi says. “How dare I interrupt her TV news interview in the other room with my ‘lies.'”
According to Fathelbab, Sarsour threatened legal and professional damage if she went public with the sexual assault claims.
“She told me he had the right to sue me for false claims,” Asmi recalls, adding that the assaulter allegedly “had the right to be anywhere in the building he wanted.”
Desperate after multiple dismissals by Sarsour, the distraught employee says she went to the president of the board of directors, Ahmed Jaber.
“Jaber told me my stalker was a ‘God-fearing man’ who was ‘always at the Mosque,’ so he wouldn’t do something like that,” Fathelbab claims. “He wanted to make it loud and clear this guy was a good Muslim and I was a bad Muslim for “complaining.”
A furious Sarsour allegedly raged against Fathelbab for continuing to report her sexual assault in the building. According to Fathelbab, her allegations would result in her getting written up for disciplinary action. She told TheDC she was once forced to talk to a detective from the community liaison division about the consequences of making false claims to the authorities.
After Fathelbab’s contract was up, Sarsour allegedly threatened to keep her from working again in the city.
“She told me I’d never work in NYC ever again for as long as she lived,” Asmi says. “She’s kept her word. She had me fired from other jobs when she found out where I worked. She has kept me from obtaining any sort of steady employment for almost a decade.”
Two people who knew Fathelbab during her time at the Arab American Association spoke with TheDC on condition of anonymity. Both corroborate her story, recalling that Asmi would return “emotionally distressed and in a panic” from work, often describing it as an “unsafe” work environment.
Another New York political operative, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, claims that Sarsour was “militant against other women” at the Association. This operative, who has worked for over 12 years with the Arab American Association, says they remember Asmi and witnessed her getting harassed in the building.
“They made it about her weight, saying she was not attractive enough to be harassed and then swept it under the rug,” the source said. “It was Linda Sarsour, Ahmad Jaber and Habib Joudeh who took care of it.” Habib Joudeh is the vice president of the Arab American Association of New York.
The source even identified Fathelbab’s alleged assaulter without prompting, “Majed Seif, the man who lived in the building.”
The operative, who is a practicing Muslim in the community, says a toxic culture at the Arab American Association led to the environment of harassment.
There's plenty of information here which would unravel quite quickly if it's all a concoction by an admitted plagiarist writing for a hack right-wing website. Which, of course, is all the more reason for someone not an admitted plagiarist writing for a hack right-wing website to investigate it. To my knowledge, nobody has tried to re-report the story (as far as I can tell, the sites that have picked it up are simply writing about the Caller's investigation, they haven't done any independent reporting).

What I'm trying to say is this: If your thought upon seeing this article was that a Daily Caller article by Benny Johnson attacking a prominent progressive activist maybe should be taken with a grain of salt -- you're right! But that's not a reason for more credible media sources to ignore the piece, that's a reason for them to try and replicate it. There's a myth that suggests feminists demand, at the first whiff of anyone accusing anyone of sexual harassment, that the accused be strung up on a lamppost. But that's not true. The demand is that we take these claims seriously enough to actually investigate and look into them.

And that's what the next step here should be. If it turns out that the Daily Caller piece is a drive-by on Sarsour, that will be valuable to know. And if turns out that it's a credible accusation of Sarsour contributing to a toxic, harassing environment in her workplace and retaliating against a woman who sought to speak up -- well, that's important to know too.

UPDATE: Buzzfeed's article is the first (I've seen) to try to do additional reporting. It certainly doesn't seem to be in dispute that Fathelbab had made complaints at the time, and that Sarsour ultimately concluded they lacked merit (though the precise nature of the complaints is under dispute, and Sarsour denies engaging in any of the "body shaming" behavior alleged).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Apart from the fact that this involves Linda Sarsour it sounds like pretty much every sexual harassment report that's come to light recently, although apparently nobody alleges she had responsibility for the abuser himself. I do want all these cases taken seriously, and at some point that will include people with more complicated responsibilities such as the one Sarsour had on this case, but it's not as pressing as actual abusers who are still in positions of power. I don't think much of Sarsour but I don't want our outrage at sexual harassment to be weaponised like this.