Friday, 8 January 2016
The Nightmare of Cologne: Denialism and Bigotry are not the only choices we have.
Writing this article will be like walking through a minefield because this is a very sensitive issue. As it touches on sexual violence, multiculturalism, immigration and integration, which are not easy subjects to talk about.
Let me make one thing VERY clear from the start: I am not interested in spreading propaganda or spreading hatred and bigotry towards people. Nor am I interested in endorsing far-right narratives about immigrants, muslims or whatever group they wish to persecute. However, I believe we must have a serious and scrupulous discussion about this, as for too long now this issue has been swept under the rug, deflected and dodged. We cannot remain silent on this.
In Cologne, there were reports of shocking sexual assaults taking place during the New Years celebrations prompting 90 legal complaints by women to the police. Dozens of young women in Cologne were groped: and in one case raped, by hundreds of men described in testimonies as having a “a North African or Arabic” appearance.
The attackers are believed to have organized themselves into gangs then stalked, molested and eventually mug women as they were enjoying New Years celebrations. The accounts of these assaults seem very reminiscent of the sexual molestation -with the intent to intimidate women- that went on in Tahir Square during protests that brought down President Mubarak and Morsi respectively in Egypt in 2011 and 2013.
Similar attacks were reported in Hamburg, Frankfurt, Dusseldorf and Stuttgart on the same night. In a seperate incident a gang rape of two teenage girls in the southern German town of Weil am Rhein on New Year's Eve is believed to have occured. Police have arrested four Syrians, aged between 14 and 21, as suspects.
Shocked German authorities called these assaults "unprecedented in nature" saying "hundreds of young men appeared to have participated".
Who did it?
The identification through testimony of the attackers in Cologne as "North African or Arab men" will inevitably raise the question of whether they were refugees from Syria and Iraq or recent migrants from North Africa. As of now, we are not sure all the attackers were recent migrants into Europe, but it is clear that at least some will be if we go by suspects currently detained by German authorities.
German police initially claimed there was no evidence that asylum seekers were involved in the violence, only for it to emerge that they had in fact detained several (mainly from Syria) on the night.
This does not mean there have not been cases of sexual assault committed by migrants in Germany, never mind in other European countries and amongst refugee women also. We are seeing a growing number of anecdotal cases where this is happening. I stole my anecdotes from this piece.
In November a club in Bavaria started turning refugees away after a string of complaints of sexual harassment from female clients.
In Baden-Württemberg at least one hospital has hired guards to protect nurses who feel intimidated by the refugees they treat.
The Woman’s Council in Hesse claimed in an open letter to the state parliament in September that they have substantial evidence of sexual abuse, including forced prostitution, in refugee shelters.
In August a regional paper in North Rhine-Westphalia also reported police covering up a serious sexual crime. After hearing about the rape of a 13-year-old girl by a refugee, the paper enquired with police as to what crimes they knew of in the refugee shelters.
There have been other reported cases in Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, Norway, Finland and within refugee camps and shelters. This is a full blown European problem.
It is true refugees and migrants are no more likely to commit sex crimes or any other crimes than the local population. Sexual harrassment on the street is obviously not exclusive to Arabs and Muslims. In recent years India (last I checked it was a Hindu majority state) has had huge problems with sexual violence. However, there are certain truths that must be stated. This by no means discredits my previous points but it gives a more nuanced picture of this crisis. That is what is often missing from these debates- nuance.
One plausible reason why there is this sex crime phenomenon among migrants is because of a gender imbalance in favour of males among the migrants and refugees. According to the International Organization of Migration 66.26 percent of adult migrants registered through Italy and Greece over the past year were male. Many are young, unmarried, military aged males. Some are fleeing being coerced to join militias in Iraq and Syria, some have come from refugee camps in Turkey and hope to bring family members with them and others are simply fleeing the dangers of war.
Politico had a great article explaining why having such a massive gender imbalance is a problem. It argues a skewed gender imbalance in favour of males can lead to an increase in violence. It references the research of Valerie Hudson in her book which focused on China's surplus male population which found an imbalanced sex ratio can lead to more violence, crime, rape and danger for women.
"There are also clearly negative effects for women in male-dominated populations. Crimes such as rape and sexual harassment become more common in highly masculinized societies, and women’s ability to move about freely and without fear within society is curtailed. In addition, demand for prostitution soars; that would create a deeply ironic outcome for Sweden, which invented the path-breaking Swedish abolitionist approach to prostitution."
While a cultural element does undoubtedly exist, one has to be careful of not exaggerating it to the point of evoking old stereotypes of dark-skinned, foreign men out to prey on white women. This struggle will not be won by sinking down to racism and collective punishment. Like I said before a nuanced understanding is what we need, not propaganda.
What I found particularly unhelpful was when the mayor of Cologne Henriette Reker was asked by journalists what women could do to protect themselves better from this. She said. “There’s always the possibility of keeping a certain distance of more than an arm’s length"and that she would soon be issuing a “code of conduct” for women “so that such things do not happen to them.”
Yeah...I intend to molest and mug a women, but shit! She’s an arm’s length away from me! therefore I can't do anything. Reker's comments reeks of utter stupidity. She is essentially saying "German women watch you behavior, dress modestly, dont look cheery and keep quiet". I can't believe I have to say this in 2016 but women are not to blame in any way for sexual assaults they expierience. The blame LIES exclusively WITH the creeps who violate a woman's bodily integrity and no one else.
This is the same backward and medieval mentality used to excuse sexual harassment of women all around the world whether in Egypt, Nigeria or India.
There are two responses one often sees in reaction to events like this, both are unhelpful and feed off each other.
The knee jerk reaction from immigration skeptics was "I told you so, you PC Liberals were wrong", therefore we should "shut the borders", as "they cannot adapt to a civilised society".
Pegida and their likes will definitely be more mobilised as they have announced a protest on the 9th January where they will to spread their alarmism, bigotry and their Eurabia conspiracy theories which is very scary.
As you can see Pat Condell with his terrible shirts jumped with glee to "prove us all wrong" about "third world muslim men" invading Europe through sex Jihad of western women.
On the other hand, the extreme left wing spasm was "we do it too", "we are no better", embodied in articles such as this. This piece basically argues "white people also commit sex crimes", which is true. No one is saying the west is perfect when it comes to sexual harrassment but all of a sudden it is a problem if you point out sexual harrassment done by someone of a different culture.
This wasn't the only absurd reaction.
Laurie Penny I am afraid to say does have a whisk of a point here. Of course, anti muslim bigots like PEGIDA will faux concern for women so that they can exploit this in order to attack muslims. However, it is dangerous to imply that anyone who explores the plausible cultural phenomena behind sex crimes done by muslim immigrants is automatically a bigot.
Then we have this from The Independent which instead of blaming the specific people responsible for the crime, it blames all men and says to point out the "difference" is to play into the far right narrative. The problem is not about race. While gender is part of the problem there is also a cultural one. Cultures can have specific ideas within them that are harmful and can be changed for the better. It is not "racist" or "bigoted" to point that out as the slimy writer implies.
This piece in the Guardian by Gaby Hinsliff was marginally better than the various tepid responses from Liberals but still it veered into apologetics.
Maajid Nawaz's take in the Daily Beast was so much better. His argument is we should take a level headed, sensible approach to this grounded in data and facts which does not stigmatize all refugees but also doesn't pretend there is not a problem. For example, creating citizenship and employment courses to help these refugees integrate better into European societies.
What was quite worrying about the Cologne case was how reluctant authorities were to give out information. This sparked accusations of a cover up done by the police which has lead to the Cologne police chief announcing his resignation.
Even the German public broadcaster, ZDF, on Wednesday apologised for delays in reporting on the wave of sexual assaults and for deciding to postpone a news segment until Tuesday.
This discrepancy will inevitably be noticed by right wing media outlets who will use it to feed their narrative that the mainstream media and the multicultural Liberals are liars who are not interested in protecting European citizens but rather in appeasing the "Islamic invasion of Europe" that will destroy western civilisation.
We are right to fear the far-right who will exploit this for their own despicable agenda. If you follow the faces of the "Counter-Jihad" movement like Robert Spencer, Pamela Geller, Tommy Robinson or Pat Condell on Twitter you will notice they had a field day with this story
In saying that, I do not think the response should be that we are held hostage by what the far-right may or may not do and just ignore the problem or not say anything about it in order to maintain the PC, so called "multi-cultural" status quo. I certainly do not think there should be any censorship under any circumstance. We should know the truth even if it is uncomfortable to us.
Germany is now at a stage where we want to be so sensitive that they will arrest people for hate speech against migrants. You can arrest as many people as you want for saying things you don't like but it is not going make the sex attacks done by Arabs magically dissappear. This enforcement of political correctness using state coercion will backfire as it will just breed defiance; because you cannot punish people for simply having opinions.
Silence and suppression will only embolden racists, fascists and anti-immigrant/refugee propagandists. Their legitimacy only comes from the fact that they claim to "speak the truth" on the supposedly rapid "Islamization of the west". As with all propaganda there are certain grains of truth to what they say and if Pat Condell or Anne Marie Waters is the only person you hear speaking on this then do not be surprised if considerable numbers of people sympathise with them even if it is only a little bit with their views.
What is to be done?
I don't have all the answers but I am skeptical the anti-immigrant response of "keep out the muslims" will actually do anything. It doesn't solve the problem, it just transports it somewhere else. It essentially says you can rape or harass "your women over there" and amongst "your people" but just dont bring it to "our women over here". Of course, I am not suggesting we take all of them in, as that is impractical. But it is also wrong to have a "shut the borders" policy, not only is it impractical, it is plainly immoral as it punishes those who desperately need refuge from war, fascism, theocracy and anarchy.
We must firstly, affirm without excuse or exception the right of women to their bodily integrity and their right to public safety. Secondly, confront and refute these backward, medieval ideas about women, honour and shame that lies under these crimes. Thirdly, urgently address integration, citizenship and social cohesion. Until we do that, then this problem will fester which will lead to more racism, more hostility towards migrants and refugees and the bolstering of reactionary forces within Europe.
In Norway which has went through similar problems is now offering newly arrived migrants classes on sexual violence. You may think this isn't perfect but it is certainly better than silence. I would suggest we make them compulsory for all refugees and migrants. In addition, we should have comprehensive citizenship and integration programs for these people to improve social cohesion.
I would also propose that we should prioritise families in particular women and children in order to achieve a gender equilibrium like Canada has done with its own refugee policy. This to me is a fair and balanced policy as we are able to help the very vulnerable fleeing the Middle East, not have an absolutist rejectionist stance but keep things under control.
We must be sensible, level headed and calm without giving in to populism and demagoguery . Denialism and bigotry are not the only choices we have.