By now everyone has heard of the New Year’s Eve attacks in Cologne, although the events of that night are still being investigated and the facts aren’t yet known in great detail. On New Year’s Eve, groups of men appearing to be of mostly Middle Eastern and African origin attacked and harassed women in an apparently coordinated action. There are now, as the Irish Times reports, 379 official criminal complaints, including two rapes. About 40% the cases include sexual offences.
The German newspaper The Local reports that women were even hindered in attempting to reach police:
“We were already informed of the conditions in and around the station as we were arriving at our positions by emotional members of the public with crying and shocked children,” a high-ranking police officer wrote in a document seen by Spiegel Online and tabloid Bild.
“On the square outside were several thousand mostly male people of a migrant background who were firing all kinds of fireworks and throwing bottles into the crowd at random.”
The police vans were themselves the targets of thrown fireworks as they pulled into their parking spaces, and people immediately rushed to the officers to report thefts, violence and sexual assaults against women.
“Even the appearance of police officers on the scene. . . didn’t hold the masses back from their actions,” the report notes.
Women – with or without male companions – were forced to “run a gauntlet. . . beyond description” of drunken men to reach or leave the station.”
In some cases, reaction in the media has been bizarre. Predictably, right-wing outlets have used the event to fuel absurd anti-immigrant screeds, seeing this as all the ammunition they need to attack Germany’s recent welcoming of a million refugees.
Perhaps even more bizarre has been the reaction from certain left-wing outlets and people who have apparently been so confused by cultural relativism that they end up sounding exactly like the rape apologists they normally decry. These comments range from well-intended but inept “advice” from authorities in Germany, such as Cologne’s mayor, Henriette Reker, telling women to keep themselves at a certain distance from men; to various talking heads in both written and video media arguing that this is nothing unusual—rape happens all the time. Click on the image below to watch The Young Turks for an interesting if eyebrow-raising 3 minutes (I couldn’t make it any further in the clip).
It’s perfectly true that this crime spree cannot be seen as a characteristic of immigrants, let alone Muslim immigrants; and right-wingers trying to hijack this for their own goals need to be confronted and combatted. But this pushback will be futile if right-wingers alone discuss the issue, and if the best that the left-wing, pro-feminist side can come up with is an appalling unwillingness to even admit that there is something worth discussing here.
Yes, this is not entirely about immigrants: it’s not yet clear how many immigrants were actually involved in the group in Cologne. But even if they were all immigrants, it would still not invalidate Germany or Europe’s immigration policies. Nor would it show that the overwhelming majority of immigrants are anything other than ordinary people looking to start a new life in a new country. However, this sort of thing cannot be ignored, nor can it be written off as just another example of the sort of thing that happens all the time to women in Europe. That attitude is clearly imbecilic and betrays the women who were targets of the abuse and violence on New Year’s Eve.
I have read two hearteningly intelligent articles on the subject. The first is from Musa Okwonga, journalist (and himself an immigrant to Europe) in the New Statesman: “How to deal with the New Year’s Eve sexual assaults in Cologne and Hamburg“:
“So, what to do …? Well, it is actually simple. Let’s just keep sticking up for the women. As far as being a black man of African descent goes, the racists in Germany and elsewhere hate us anyway. They thought we were rapists and perverts and other assorted forms of sex attacker the second they set eyes on us. They don’t care about the women who were attacked in Cologne and Hamburg, except to prove the point that we are the animals that they always thought – or hoped – we were.
In return, I don’t care about them. Nor am I too bothered by the people who don’t want to sit next to me on the train. Fear of the unknown is a hard thing to unlearn. I am most concerned, by far, with the safety of the women who may now be more frightened than ever to enter public spaces. I don’t think that women have ever felt particularly comfortable walking through crowds of drunk and aggressive men at night, regardless of the race of those men. But groups of young men of North African and Arab origin, whatever their intentions, will most likely endure more trepidation from women than before.
So here’s what I propose we do. Why don’t we just start with the premise that it is a woman’s fundamental right, wherever she is in the world, to walk the streets and not be groped? And why don’t we see this as a perfect moment for men, regardless of our ethnic backgrounds, to get genuinely angry about the treatment of women in public spaces: to reject with fury the suggestion that we are somehow conditioned by society forever to treat women as objects, condemned by our uncontrollable sexual desires to lunge at them as they walk past?”
The second is a very detailed analysis by Maajid Nawaz who, with his usual refreshing candor and clarity, tackles the underlying problems head-on in The Daily Beast, “Why We Can’t Stay Silent on Germany’s Mass Sex Assaults“:
The fetishization of the female body has not led to a decrease in cases of sexual violence in societies where women cover their entire bodies. If Taliban- and ISIS-held areas are anything to go by, violence against women only increases the more women are asked to conceal and segregate themselves. This would make sense, because accompanying such attitudes is the notion that women are sexual objects to be owned and controlled, and not human beings to be respected and loved. What is infuriating is that for centuries progressives have made these very arguments against white Christian fundamentalists in the West, yet—displaying an incredible cognitive dissonance—those progressives easily abandon that position when confronted with the problem in a minority community. [JAC: here we see, again, the characteristic ambivalence of the Authoritarian Left: a dissonance between sympathy for the oppressed on the one hand and the Enlightenment values apparently violated by the oppressed on the other.]
The case of Cologne tells us that we can no longer afford this Regressive-Left double standard. The only person to blame for rape is the rapist. Employment and education among migrant males will be a more conducive and far more consistent approach than asking European women to change how they dress or when they go out.
Whatever the investigation eventually uncovers about the attacks in Cologne on New Year’s Eve, three things will remain true: it is not the fault of Europe’s trying to help as many refugees as they can; the overwhelming majority of Muslim immigrants to Europe arrived there only to seek a new and better life for themselves and their families; and the mass attacks on women in Cologne that night were not an example of “everyday sexism”.