Saturday, January 9, 2016

Men running amok

The situation has got the police coming...
Many people are still asking, “What the hell happened?” on New Year’s Eve in Cologne.  A thousand dark-skinned men making German women run the gauntlet to and from the main train station, tossing firecrackers at them, robbing them, molesting them and in a couple cases raping them?   WTF?

The facts were slow to come out, partly I suppose because the situation was chaotic and out of control, and partly, it would appear, because the powers-that-be were loathe to add more fuel to the fires raging among right wingers in Germany over the fact the gangs can be assumed to be Muslim men from North Africa and the Middle East.  Including some newly arrived asylum seekers.

Now the facts are finally coming out.  Cologne’s police chief has been sent packing into early retirement, the mayor is on the hot seat for a political gaffe – she suggested women ought to be more careful around men – and we’re considering the possibility that this event was actually coordinated. And it happened not only in Cologne, but in Hamburg, Stuttgart, and several other German cities as well as in other European cities - Helsinki, Zurich, Kalmar in Sweden, and in Austria.  My guess is it was not coordinated.  I’m betting it was just a bunch of revved up men with no place to go, waiting for the chance to blow off some steam, and New Year’s Eve provided the opportunity.
...and going

Cologne got most of the attention because there the rowdy crowd of single men is said to have numbered a thousand.  The head of one of the policemen’s unions can be heard complaining loudly in a television interview that they didn’t have sufficient back-up, because, he says, a couple thousand of their regular troops are down on the southern borders trying to keep the flow of refugees from getting out of hand.  “We’re faced with a whole new scenario,” he says.  “We have the immigrants to worry about, the terrorists, and now this situation of mass criminality.”  Over two million hours in overtime.  He lets the Interior Ministry have it, publicly, and the interviewer thanks him for his “straight talk.”   The police simply were not ready for this degree of social unrest.  And investigations are hampered by the inability to get victims to identify their abusers.  As might be expected, there is a lot of political posturing, as Chancellor Merkel and others speak of tightening up the regulations on deporting offenders.  It appears that’s about all they can do at the moment until the shock wears off and investigators can get at the facts.

There have been charges that the government, the police and the media have conspired to withhold information about the fact these attacks were largely the criminal acts of migrant men. Of the thirty-one alleged muggers in Cologne under investigation, nine are Algerians, eight Moroccans, five Iranians, four Syrians, two are Germans, one is an Iraqi, one a Serb and one a US citizen.  The contention that sensitivity about identifying perpetrators as Muslim immigrants played a role is supported by the fact that one Cologne broadcaster tweeted the question to its viewers: “How should we cover the events in Cologne?” and then failed to actually do so until five days after the event.

pouring kerosine on the flames of racism and
One thing is clear.  Although the best way to get at this story might be to google “Attacks in Cologne” this story goes wide beyond any single city.  No matter how hard you might want to defend Germany’s current policy of taking in refugees, no matter how important it is to keep a cool head and recognize that in a population of a million people there are certainly bound to be at least a thousand men here and there who for one reason or another live outside the borders of civilized society, the fact remains that this last New Year’s Eve, women all over Europe were molested by men who came from the Muslim world.  Repeat the usual caveats until you are blue in the face. This does not – or should not – cast aspersions on Muslims as a whole and certainly not on the desperate lot of people seeking asylum from bombs and persecution.  But let’s not turn away, either, from the fact that we have witnessed an event in which men ran wild and caused fear and confusion among women.  And that it was not local men, but men from another cultural background.

Given enough time, the million asylum seekers and counting will be processed.  Some will eventually return to their home countries, some will move on to other countries, some will settle and become Germans.  In time, they will give up their tribal and patriarchal traditions, but it will take time.  In the meantime, things like this thuggish testosterone-driven event will be part of the new Germany’s growing pains.  It will be a very bumpy road and there will be all manner of temptation to give up hard-acquired human rights.  Fearful people within Germany will argue the social challenge and the financial cost are too great and their arguments might easily carry the day at times.  There may be many steps backwards before Germany can move ahead again.  There is a real danger the xenophobic German monster has been let out of the bag and we’re going to have to watch refugees being abused for a while.

And that would be tragic.  And that’s why I’m hoping this event gets viewed through the lens not of the Muslim/Crusader conflict, and not in terms of an opportunity for Angela Merkel’s opponents (of whom I am one) to get the upper hand, but through the lens of gender equality.

The greatest contribution to humankind over the past many centuries has been the notions expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that white people have no claim to power over people of color, that war is wrong, that religion or any other retrograde ideology should not be allowed to chip away at the accomplishments of the seekers of democracy and equity and that men should not dominate women.

In time, we can do it.  We can get Muslims to cherry-pick their religion and cast off the Qu’ranic verses currently being used by so many of the Al Qaeda and ISIS ilk.  Get them to limit their religion to its poetic inspiration.  And stand up and oppose the traditional values of North Africa and the Middle East in which men are raised to believe they have a right to have their way with any woman whenever the opportunity arises.

Every man, every woman should take every opportunity to say it loud and clear, to repeat it till the end of time.  Men cannot make women do things against their will.  We have learned that the white European was wrong to abuse the black African.  That battle isn’t over, but it’s largely won.  The events in Cologne and elsewhere show that the battle for gender equality has only just begun.  Women have achieved parity with men in much of Europe and America, but male supremacists still abound.

no to racism, no to sexism
We need to speak out.  Point fingers at the Roman Catholic Church, for example, which insists God wants men to control the billion dollar institution that claims to speak for God on earth, and not women.  Point fingers at the male legislators who insist their religion and not women themselves should dictate what women do with their bodies.  Point fingers at the failure to root out honor killings, forced marriages, and domestic violence, and at all manner of abuse against women in the name of tradition and religion and culture. 

For some time, progressives and other people of good will have been intimidated by the charge they are cultural imperialists when they insist Europe’s values are superior to Muslim or Arab or Middle Eastern values.  We have to “respect” differences, we are told.   While that may sound like reason and common sense at first, it only takes a moment to deconstruct the labels European and Middle Eastern and spot the bogus reasoning underlying the argument.  There is nothing European about human equality.  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights took time to get established.  Originally Saudi Arabia didn’t sign because it objected to the right of a person to change his or her religion.  The Soviet bloc didn’t sign because it objected to the right all people have to travel freely.  South Africa didn’t sign because it would have had to give up apartheid.  But in time all of these countries came around.  And what is being labeled a Middle Eastern value is a Middle Eastern value only if you fail to recognize that it serves the interest only of the men of the Middle East.  The ethic of male domination thrives in the Middle East, but it’s found in Sicily, in Korea, in Afghanistan, in Guatemala, and in Mali as well.  You’re not being an anti-Middle Eastern cultural imperialist when you criticize a value it shares with cultures hostile to women elsewhere in the world.  You’re being pro-equality.  When slavery meets freedom, slavery does not get the right to defend itself on cultural grounds.  And freedom should show the strength of its convictions, and not cave to a fear of being misunderstood.

The male supremacist tradition common to the Muslim world will give way eventually.  It will have to, because victims of inequality eventually fight back.

I hope the police find the guys in Cologne and Helsinki, Hamburg and Zurich who ran amok on New Year’s Eve.  Whether you deport them, send them to jail, or find some other way to get their heads straight I leave that to the institutions engaged in the struggle.  I hope we can do more to help schools and social services to reach young boys and girls before it’s too late and get them going on a path of human equality for all people, even if fathers want their daughters to stay home from school, even if their tradition is to cover their faces and keep their mouths shut.

This wretched running amok on New Year’s Eve was a temporary victory for the dark side.  It needs to be countered by renewed efforts to improve the lot of women.  This New Year’s Event is part of the story of mass migration of have-nots to the nations of the haves.  It’s also an outcome of the Civil War in Syria.

But let’s not miss the fact that it’s also a part of the story of the struggle for gender equality.

picture credits:

kerosene on the flames of racism and xenophobia in Germany:
no to racism and sexism:
cops in pigtails (going):
four policemen (coming): 


William D. Lindsey said...

Wonderful commentary, Alan. This helps so many of us who can't easily immerse ourselves in the accounts in the German news to get a clearer grasp of what's going on in this story.

And the analysis of what's REALLY going on: excellent. "I’m hoping this event gets viewed through the lens not of the Muslim/Crusader conflict, and not in terms of an opportunity for Angela Merkel’s opponents (of whom I am one) to get the upper hand, but through the lens of gender equality": yes, that sounds exactly right to me. As you say, we've been able and willing to negotiate delicate discussions about matters of race and religion in the various cultures of the world, and in those delicate discussions, we've recognized that there are things to be learned (and things to be rejected) within any culture involved in these discussions.

We're at a point at which we have to do the same discussing and negotiating when it comes to questions of gender, too — and the religious convictions of people in various cultures should no more be allowed to derail those discussions than they've been permitted to derail discussions about race.

This all sounds very right to me, and it needs to be said.

Emil Ems said...

Hear, hear!