What happened in Cologne is the latest symptom of a Europe that sorely needs to reassert its basic cultural values.
We walked through the group of men…I was groped everywhere…Although we shouted and hit them, the men didn’t stop…I think I was touched around 100 times over the 200 metres.”
Katja was one of over 100 women who were intimidated, assaulted and mugged by an organised gang of around 1000 men. The men, according to eyewitness reports, were mostly in their twenties and of Arab and North African origin. Similar incidents that occurred on the same night have been reported in Hamburg, Sweden and Helsinki, although none of those were on the same scale as Cologne.
Reactions to the Cologne event have been emotional, mixed and in some cases rather strange. At first, the media seemed to be ignoring it. The police have been accused of trying to cover it up, perhaps for fear they would be branded incompetent; the city’s police chief is now facing dismissal. Once the news broke, people were angry. Hundreds protested in Cologne on January 5, calling for German Chancellor Angela Merkel to take action. Government officials have condemned the attacks and the perpetrators, but also warned against linking the perpetrators with the recent influx of refugees. Not everyone agrees: the populist party Alternative for Germany (AfD) has blamed the events on open borders, and anti-Islamic group Pegida are currently organising a protest march.
Dealing with this kind of issue always feels like walking a tight-rope. On the one hand, it’s very easy to have some kind of kneejerk reaction, to use the Cologne incident to justify outright prejudice against a particular group. On the other hand, it’s also very easy for timidity to get in the way of the truth; people may ignore the truth because it doesn’t fit with their narrative and political aims, or refuse to speak it for fear of being branded “racist”. From a legal point of view, the ethnicity and origin of the perpetrators is indeed irrelevant; they should be viewed as self-responsible individuals, and treated the same way as anyone else who commits a crime. However, there is also a political and cultural perspective on this issue; from that perspective, the origin of the perpetrators does matter.
It doesn’t take a genius to surmise that a sudden spike in sexual assaults committed by Arab and North African men in Germany must have some kind of causal connection with a sudden spike in the immigration of such men to that country. The men didn’t appear out of thin air, and their behaviour isn’t random and inexplicable; the men came from countries where misogyny is rife, and they have brought that misogyny with them to their new country. It isn’t racist to point that out. Neither does it constitute “blaming the refugees” or even “blaming immigrants”. The problem is not immigrants or refugees; the problem is certain young men who have adopted the values of a misogynistic culture and who refuse to adapt to their new surroundings.
So what is the appropriate political response? First, we must take a zero-tolerance policy towards immigrants who refuse to adapt to the basic laws and values of their new home. If, in an act of compassion, you let a destitute stranger into your house, and the stranger decided to repay your kindness by assaulting a member of your household, what would you do? I imagine you would kick them out. The same logic should apply at a national level: those who are taken in should be taken in with the proviso that they are willing to obey the law and to uphold the nation’s fundamental values. Those who blatantly disregard this proviso should not be allowed to stay any longer.
Taking a tough line on those who break the law and abuse our kindness, increasing security and reducing the inflow of migrants in order to leave more time for proper integration to occur—these actions are all necessary but insufficient. The most important response to Cologne should be a proud, unashamed defence of European culture and institutions. The best thing about Western Europe is its atmosphere of liberality and tolerance. Western Europe is a place where people of different races and religions live side by side. It is the safest place in the world for women and LGBT people. All of that could change however, unless we make the effort to reject any form of cultural barbarism, to uphold the rule of law, to uphold democracy, and to expect all citizens to conduct themselves in a manner that does not infringe on the freedom and privacy of others.
A delicate balance needs to be wrought here. We mustn’t listen to those on the extreme right who want to end all immigration and persecute all Muslims. Neither must we listen to multiculturalists and relativists who think it’s racist to assert that any set of cultural values, laws or political institutions can be superior to any other. We need to be practical and we need to be truthful. The superiority of the European attitude and way of life is the reason why refugees want to come here in the first place. If we refuse to defend what makes Europe special, if we refuse to oppose barbaric ideas and practices, we are betraying the refugees just as much as we are betraying ourselves.