We are breathing a small sigh of relief on learning that Iman al-Obeidi has made it out of Libya and is currently in Tunisia under the protective care of European diplomats. Iman al-Obeidi is the brave Libyan woman who burst into the restaurant of the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli in late March to tell the world her story about 15 of Gaddafi’s troops detaining her, holding her against her will, beating her, and gang-raping her. Her dramatic telling of her story—at great additional risk to her life—was a watershed event in helping the world understand the overall fabric of violence and despotism in the regime, and its brutal and (usually) hidden effects on women in particular. [Click here for the Washington Post’s account of her escape to Tunisia.]
Throughout Iman al-Obeidi’s ordeal—especially when the Libyan government tried to portray her as “mentally unstable” and a “prostitute” and threatened to sue her for making libelous statements—she continued to remind us of Lisbeth Salander. Lisbeth too is, at various times in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo novel and its sequels, held against her will, beaten, raped, dismissed as insane, a prostitute, has the legal system turned against and so forth. In creating the memorable character of Lisbeth, Stieg Larsson had the experiences of all too many contemporary women in mind—and even future cases like Iman al-Obeidi’s that would take place after Larsson’s 2004 death.
There are hundreds of examples, but the experiences of CBS News reporter Lara Logan in Tahrir Square in Egypt provide another case in point. Logan came forward to tell the details of her own experience of being violated right in the middle of the Tahir Square crowds she was there to report on. She happened to tell her harrowing story on 60 Minutes on the same night that President Obama would announce the success of the operation against Osama bin Laden, and thus some of her story was unfortunately overshadowed. But Lara Logan too might have been a character in a Stieg Larsson novel.
Larsson’s point was that powerful systems run by powerful men will systematically create the conditions for violence and sexual abuse against women. Popular and entertaining as his novels are, communicating this message—and the need to take action against this recurring nightmare—was in the forefront of his multiple motivations for writing these books.