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The New Year’s Eve assaults and sexual assaults in Cologne (as well as in other European cities, including mine, Zurich) have been all over the news lately and people have been taking cultural relativism a little too far.
Within the difficult context of the ongoing influx of refugees since last year in Germany, many see this as the logical result of what happens because Merkel “let too many refugees in.” And suddenly, just like that, because the perpetrators may be brown, now rape is a problem. Even the German Green Party is in on it, asking for an “open debate” on the origins of the Cologne assailants.
But the political recuperation doesn’t stop. A lot of well-meaning articles have surfaced about the purported difference in values between “refugees” who must surely come from places where women are not respected, totally blowing by the fact that European women get raped by European dudes daily as well.
First up is an otherwise well-written Le Temps article (in French) about how Swiss authorities are toying with the idea of proposing classes to new migrants on gender relationships, or, to cite a source in the article, “explain to migrants what types of behaviors towards women are not allowed here [in Switzerland.” I can agree, from a certain point of view, that classes on cultural sensitivity could be appropriate depending on context. At the same time, I personally think it is a slippery slope from a casual “this is how we do things over here” to “by the way, we don’t rape women here, unlike in your country” (when we do) and “here in the West we respect women” (when that point is at least debatable).
Which is basically the point of view of an extremely simplistic article out of Belgium “explaining” that the Cologne assaults must be the result of “immense sexual frustration”(only click on this if you can’t read French anyway and/or have a strong gag reflex). According to the journalist,
“Here we have a unique form of violence which does not fit into a known category in European countries, [violence] which is on the other hand quite frequent in Arab countries where the local police, who are familiar with the phenomenon, intervene immediately with whips or night sticks.”
The absence of an immediate reaction by the German police is without a doubt linked to the incomprehension of what was taking place [in central Cologne] on New Year’s Eve.” (emphasis mine) Not The Onion, y’all. Where do I even begin? Is the journalist condoning beating people with whips and sticks? Do police in Arab countries beat men down because of who they are as people? Do German police not beat people enough, or do they just not beat brown people enough? I have no words.
Charlie Hebdo (link from Paris Match because I refuse to give traffic to Charlie Hebdo) got in on the game (of course they did), running a cartoon referencing Aylan, the Syrian child who drowned, with the caption: “What would have little Aylan grown up to be? – An ass-grabber in Germany.” Oh, that’s just “special French satire” right?
An opinion piece by a member of the 1968 European student movement in Die Welt says that “avoiding reality destroyed our democracy.” The author calls out the police and administration for a cover up in being too politically correct about revealing the origins of the perpetrators. But really, what does that change? If they weren’t brown men raping, would the discourse be the same? I do not deny that the perpetrators of the Cologne attacks appear at this point to be mainly North African/Middle Eastern, but what frosts me so much is that I refuse to believe that there would be such a public outcry if they were not.
Finally, even the title is clickbait in this NYT article “As Germany Welcomes Migrants, Sexual Attacks in Cologne Point to a New Reality.” The new reality of what? That women are getting raped and assaulted and omg rape and assault has never happened in Europe before? Not to say that the article, like the Le Temps article, isn’t otherwise well written, but rather that it starts from a point of view that migrants need to be told not to rape. How about all people need to be told not to rape?
Saving my day, an article in the French-language Inrocks does ask the question of whether or not there is a political recuperation at play (with potential xenophobic goals), and what the appropriate feminist response would be. The “Osez le feminisme” collective, cited in the article, asks the very pertinent question, “would there be rape victims who deserve to be supported more than others, depending on the origin of their aggressors?”
This Inrocks article also mentions the “aufschrei” hashtag, which will be a part of my next post which will look at a specific article in the German press in-depth.
My biggest problem with the news coverage and the political reactions of the Cologne events is that potential failings (like a cover up) on the part of the police force or authorities (more in Cologne than in Zurich or elsewhere) are not taken into account; and, in a larger context, it seems that coverage goes straight to turning this into a “refugee problems” story rather than a “violence against women” story.
I think it is important not to minimize the very real impact of the tragic NYE events across Europe, and I think it is even more important to place these events on their proper context and not bow to racist conclusions, even when one means well, as is the case of “let’s have classes teaching brown men not to rape.”
Here is the deal: rape and sexual assault have always been problems everywhere. It is disingenuous to suddenly decide that there is a “clash of civilisations” or some bullshit just because allegedly brown dudes are now doing the raping. It is disingenuous to assume that brown dudes do not know how to not rape when rape happens every day, in every country, by perpetrators of every skin color, religion and gender. Let’s talk about violence against women, and have a real discussion- this isn’t only about refugees or religion.