Moving on from Cologne

_87564582_030798902-1Friday 15 January 2016

Over the New Year’s weekend, reports that an organised gang of hundreds of men of North African/Arab descent attacked, molested, and raped women in the German city of Cologne were suppressed by the media. How could an attack like this happen? And why did the media not report it straight away?

The media was frightened. They thought that racist, right-wing gangs would respond to the news by marauding through the streets attacking any North Africans or Arab they saw. This fear, based upon a collective European history of Kristallnacht and pogroms, caused them to decide that running the story was too risky. When they eventually did, they explained really carefully that these people did not represent all North Africans and Arabs, as if pleading with a hostile population who could become savage racists at the flick of a switch. In the meantime, the victims of the attacks had been forgotten. The story became about the media protecting migrants. The motive behind protection is commendable, but the act is misguided. Yes, racists believe all Arabs and all North Africans are the same, but explaining that they’re not belittles the vast majority. Does, say, Al Jazeera really think most Europeans are violent racists just waiting for the right trigger?! This is the soft bigotry of low expectations.

Furthermore, by not discussing why these coordinated attacks happened and, instead, focusing on how these people aren’t representative, one leaves space for right-wing populists who are willing to have the discussions we’re not. Currently, in the United States, Donald Trump is leading the polls in the race to be the 2016 presidential nominee for the Republican Party. Trump should be a no hoper, but he’s far from it. His numbers keep going up and people continue to wonder why he has so much support.

In December 2015, at a campaign rally in South Carolina, Trump said that when he was elected president he wouldn’t allow any more Muslims into the country, his numbers went up again afterwards. A short incomplete clip was played on news shows the world over. If the whole sentence had been screened then maybe one or two careful listeners would have noticed something quite important. Trump, speaking in the third person, as all completely sane people do, said: “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States, until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.” (My emphasis) Less than a week earlier, a terrorist attack had taken place in San Bernardino, California. He did not understand why. Trump doesn’t understand Islamism; neither does his supporters, who increased in number. People aren’t idiots and if you treat them like idiots, they will treat you like an idiot. Since 9/11, the American people have been told that terrorism has no religion and that Islam is a religion of peace, but when they go online they see that Islamic State has cited the Koran as justification for another attack, or they see a suicide bomber screaming Allahu Akhbar before blowing himself up. This has left them with a stark choice: on one side they have the government saying that there is no link, and on the other there is the populist saying that there might just be a connection and that we’ve got to work it out before we can allow in any more Muslims. It’s understandable that some have sided with Trump over the government.

Safety is noble. Perpetuating ignorance to maintain the illusion of safety is doomed to failure. Not discussing Islamism has opened up a chance of real power for a fool who has no business being in politics. If we don’t openly talk about possible reasons why the events in Cologne occurred, then the same thing could happen in Europe, especially because at the moment we are being offered victim blaming, diversionary tactics and self-loathing instead. The Mayor of Cologne, Henriette Reker, said that women should try to keep an arm’s length away from all strange men, to which the Canadian polemicist, Mark Steyn, angrily responded:

This may work for Mayor Reker traveling around her fiefdom with a car and security detail, but, alas, out on the streets, men often have longer arms than women, and, when there are more than one of them, you can easily wind up out-armed: “Ich hatte Finger an allen Körperöffnungen,” as one young lady put it. “I had fingers on every orifice.”

Then there was Ralf Jaeger, the Interior Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, the region in which Cologne lies, discussing the right-wing response to the attacks: “What happens on the right-wing platforms and in chat rooms is at least as awful as the acts of those assaulting the women … This is poisoning the climate of our society.” The right-wing response is at least as problematic as the crime itself! Steyn again: ‘Maybe his cabinet colleagues might usefully stick some fingers in Herr Jaeger’s orifices, starting with his mouth.’

Finally, there was the Tunisian migrant living in Cologne who was interviewed on Channel 4 News: “It’s the fault of the German laws and not the people. Refugees and migrants who arrive have to wait six months to a year. During that time they can’t work and that means that often they turn to crime because they can’t make ends meet.” So, there we have it, the sexual assaults were the fault of Germany’s bureaucracy and the fault of the women themselves and it doesn’t matter anyway because the right-wing are just as bad as any rapist and we should focus on them. This is the nonsense we are currently being given. People don’t want to talk about why it happened, instead they skirt around the issue because, really, maybe we brought it on ourselves. This is masochistic stupidity and is because people are afraid of being called racist, which crushes debate and can have serious social ramifications for the accused. When talking about an issue as serious as this there cannot be any reservations, all ideas need to be put on the table to explain why it happened and how to prevent it happening again. Racist ideas will be shelved as racism is illogical and we need reason to work this out.To be told, therefore, that it is racist to even discuss why this happened because we are the root cause for our own downfall, as some have suggested, is disgusting! We have got to talk about this and it has to be now, because this wasn’t the first time. It is not an event without precedent, and that means it could happen again, which is terrifying.

In Sweden, at a music festival in 2014, and then, again, at the same festival in 2015, the police were afraid to report large gangs of migrants from Afghanistan who were attacking, molesting and raping young women because they were afraid of being labelled racist. Their youngest victim was 12-years-old. Twelve! Why were the police afraid of being called racist? I put a lot of it down to the rise of cultural relativism.

Cultural relativism is the idea that one has to take into account culture, society and history before deciding upon truth, knowledge and morality. Something considered bad or immoral within one group, may be seen as positive or good or at least not decadent by another group. No judgment can be made about the value of either of these positions without taking into account all factors or ideally being a member of the group in question. Someone who doesn’t consider themselves to be a member cannot comment upon the group’s issues of without bias. Cultural relativists insist that discussing something as important as how women are seen by those who grew up in another society, another culture, is beyond our grasp unless we truly understand them. What this means is that a discussion can be shut down quickly by shouting racist at someone willing to talk about these issues but opposed to this methodology. Being labelled as racist can cause someone to lose their job, friends and even family, whether it a justifiable accusation or not. Cultural relativism is twaddle; nonetheless it is potent twaddle because in its armoury it has the accusation of racism.

We have got to discuss why these horrendous attacks happened. What drove these people to organise large gangs in which they could attack women? The problem is that the cultural diktat over our society which states that it is racist to speak about the worth of another can be overwhelming. Even I feel a pang of reservation when I start to consider whether the way women are treated in North Africa and the Arab world could be better. Should I really be discussing this? Do I really want to wade into this tricky debate? The answers should be yes, but that pang still reverberates. I’ve considered the merits of posting this article more than once. I’ve also had to force myself to not bend over backwards to explain myself more fully, to not do the whole “what I’m not saying is… what I am actually saying is this…” I haven’t done that because I’ve got to trust that you, the reader, will take me at my word. So, here, for what it’s worth, is my take on why the attacks happened and how to try to prevent another one:

I am worried by how men in the Arab world, North Africa, and third world countries view women. These are not, despite what some say, the most progressive societies. Some may argue that rape is perpetrated by Westerners too, which is correct, but it does not occur in the same numbers and is viewed as evil, rather than a Friday night out with the boys. To play the Rawlsian thought experiment: say you are going to be born tomorrow, you know you’re female but you do not know the socioeconomic status of your parents, in which country would you prefer to be born? I can honestly say that I would want it to be a Western country. So, while some claim that the West promotes ‘rape culture’, I would, bearing that in mind, ask how one should define the culture in North Africa and the Arab world. Let me give an example, one which, as you will see, is not unique: the horrendous rape of Lara Logan, the CBS journalist, in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, in 2011, during the Arab Spring. This is a summary from Wikipedia, which is compiled from a transcript of the CBS show 60 Minutes:

She said the incident involved 200–300 men and lasted around 25 minutes. She had been reporting the celebrations for an hour without incident when her camera battery failed. One of the Egyptian CBS crew suggested they leave, telling her later he heard the crowd make inappropriate sexual comments about her. She felt hands touching her, and can be heard shouting “stop”, just as the camera died. One of the crowd shouted that she was an Israeli, a Jew, a claim that CBS said, though false, was a “match to gasoline”. She went on to say that they tore off her clothes and, in her words, raped her with their hands, while taking photographs with their cellphones. They began pulling her body in different directions, pulling her hair so hard she said it seemed they were trying to tear off chunks of her scalp. Believing she was dying, she was dragged along the square to where the crowd was stopped by a fence, alongside which a group of women were camping. One woman wearing a chador put her arms around Logan, and the others closed ranks around her, while some men who were with the women threw water at the crowd. A group of soldiers appeared, beat back the crowd with batons, and one of them threw Logan over his shoulder. She was flown back to the U.S. the next day, where she spent four days in the hospital.

Apart from having the good fortune to have soldiers plunge into a crowd after her, it reads like the attacks in Cologne and Sweden. I had forgotten about Logan until I read an article by a Swedish journalist, Ivar Arpi, for the Spectator. Arpi writes:

In the Arab world, it’s something of a phenomenon. It has a name: ‘Taharrush gamea’. Sometimes the girls are teased and have their veils torn off by gangs of young men; sometimes it escalates into rape. Five years ago, this form of attack was the subject of an award-winning Egyptian film, 678. Instances of young men surrounding and attacking girls were reported throughout the Arab Spring protests in Cairo in 2011 and 2012. Lara Logan, a CNN journalist covering the fall of Hosni Mubarak, was raped in Tahrir Square. Taharrush gamea is a modern evil, and it’s being imported into Europe. Our authorities ought to be aware of it.

If Arpi is correct, then Taharrush gamea explains why the attacks happened in the way they did, and is a perfectly good reason to double check the backgrounds of migrants and refugees. We cannot allow this disgusting practice to be imported into Europe. Maajid Nawaz suggested in the Daily Beast that “classes [on social and sexual norms] should be mandatory for new arrivals across the continent. These classes should form part of a citizenship, integration, and employment course, before residency permits are provided. In any case, they would help refugees come to grips with the strange new world they have just fled to, and can only make their job prospects better.” This is a great idea, one which, as he explains elsewhere in the article, is already being put into practice in Norway, the town of Passau in Bavaria, and, soon, Denmark. Let’s hope the rest of Europe follows suit.

Another way to go would be to follow the example set by Canada’s new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. Trudeau, realising that 90 per cent of migrants are males and that the vast majority of that percentage are unaccompanied, “announced in late November that, starting in 2016, [Canada] would accept only women, accompanied children and families from Syria. Specifically excluded would be unaccompanied minor males and single adult males (unless they are members of the LGBTQ community); those excluded will primarily be older teen and young adult men.” Admittedly, Canada has the luxury of the Atlantic between its borders and the origins of most migrants, nonetheless this is a sound policy from a country that wants to help and is doing so logically.

Something which may deter attacks is to finally enforce tougher punishments for rape. If it doesn’t, then at least the current insincere punishments will have been updated. In the meantime, we must learn more about the way women and sex are viewed by those migrants already here and those making their way to Europe. If we are to adapt to their presence we must help those who want to integrate to do so. We need to learn how to live together, we must be proud of how Western society treats women, noticing that we are not at equity yet, but that we are far more advanced than from whence they came. New arrivals must respect other people, whatever their age, gender, sexuality or ethnicity. They are to be told that if they try to import their current standards, then they will be sent back. There can be no compromise. We must learn how to have these difficult conversations. It is imperative that we suppress both the fear of being labelled racist and of inciting a right-wing backlash, especially when the topic is so important that it concerns the safety of 50 per cent of the continent’s population.

And we must hold rapists accountable for their actions, even if, as one of the men arrested showed, they are full of themselves: “I am Syrian. You have to treat me kindly. Mrs Merkel invited me.” No, we don’t, you’re a rapist and you’re going to prison where you will learn fast or you will be deported upon release.


Hiatus, UKIP, and Dan Carlin


Monday 20 October 2014

I went on hiatus. Stupidly. I need to keep writing, and to not have written an entry makes it appear that my total output for the last nineteen days has been zero; however, I did write a brief article as part of my application for the Reuters Journalism Program:

In the United Kingdom, the south-eastern county of Kent is in the midst of a historic political shift. Jobs have been created slower than was expected of the governing Conservative Party, a problem experienced across the continent in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. This has been made worse by the lifting of restrictions on immigration from the European Union and a heightened sense of competition for work. Kent, the area of the mainland closest to Europe, has had a significant number of economic migrants settling in the region. This set of circumstances has proved to be perfect for the Eurosceptic, right-wing United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) to gain support.

UKIP Leader Nigel Farage Campaigning In South Shields
Nigel Farage, the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP).

Led by Kent-born Nigel Farage, UKIP has successfully used the current wave of immigration as their central argument for leaving the European Union. Currently, although economic migrants make up fewer than 3% of Kent’s population, they have been blamed for taking jobs from British nationals and continuing austerity. This strategy has led to a change in fortunes for the party which has been transformed from an extreme political ‘also-ran’ to being a serious competitor to the incumbent Conservatives.

It was a drastic transition for the county. In 2009, UKIP did not win a single seat on the Kent County Council. Yet in 2013, only four years later, they won 17 seats and managed to wrench several councils from Conservative hands into a status of ‘no overall control’. In this year’s European Parliamentary elections, UKIP doubled its constituency-members in the south-east of England (which includes Kent) from two to four, and claimed the defection of Rochester and Strood MP Mark Reckless, which has forced a by-election to be held on 20 November. Furthermore, since Douglas Carswell won his seat in Clacton, Essex on 10 October after he also defected to UKIP in similar circumstances, Farage has every reason to be upbeat by his party’s progress.

The notable aspect of these small victories in Kent is that they have come at the expense of the Conservative Party. Carswell and Reckless were Conservative MPs. The 17 seats gained in the county council elections were all won from the Conservatives. In the European elections, in Kent itself, UKIP won 11 out of 12 regions, the other being retained by the Conservatives. Since the Second World War, three-quarters of all MPs elected in Kent have been Conservative and other parties have often had to fight amongst themselves for what little influence remains. UKIP are unique because they have managed to be a populist right-wing alternative that is more conservative than the Conservatives – a tactic which is clearly paying off.

Whether this trend will continue, and UKIP keep eating into the Conservative’s support, will be revealed in the General Election in May. In the meantime, UKIP are trying to ride the wave, and have chosen Farage to contest a seat on the Kent coast, South Thanet (a Conservative constituency). Initial polls have been in his favour, but May is still a long way away.

At least I have done something since I last posted. And, no, I don’t think that I will get the position. Nevertheless it is lovely to prove to myself that I can still essay on current political events (and include an undertone of history too) – it makes me believe that I can make a success of my chosen career path. However, as well as the above reads, the odds are firmly stacked against me because I do not have a qualification in journalism, an apparent prerequisite for anything to do with the craft (which is not an apprenticeship). The beautiful irony of wanting to write for a living and having a BA (Hons) and an MA by Research is that I am overqualified to apply for apprenticeships and under qualified to get a position as a journalist!

Atomic bombing of Japan
The mushroom clouds over Hiroshima (on the left) and Nagasaki (right) from the Atomic bombs dropped on them in August 1945.

In an ideal world I would be doing something similar to what Dan Carlin does, but in the written form. Prompted by a post on Facebook from an author I follow, I began listening to Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast. The format is simple: over roughly three hours he speaks about a historical event or question. Somehow his enthusiasm and his ability to approach it from a relatively new angle makes it riveting. One of the first episodes I listened to was on the morality of dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. To brutally butcher his wonderfully composed essay, he concluded that it would be unfair to sweepingly label it immoral. The reasoning he gave was that the “logical insanity” of the time (both a buzz phrase of the piece and its title) meant that it was seen as a legitimate act of war. Moreover according to Carlin, it is wrong to judge previous events in a time of war by current moral standards. If something was wrong at the time then it can be called immoral; however, if it was deemed acceptable then it is tricky to label it as such.

Carlin’s format is superb. He goes away for three months with a co-producer of the show – known only as Ben – and they read around a dozen books on the subject of the next show, write the script, edit it several times, record it and then publish through various formats. It sounds pretty great to me. I would love to do something similar, except in a written form in a shorter time frame.

But how do I get to that point? Some huge issues darken my aspirations: namely that I need to be earning money to help out at home, so essaying (and, especially, researching for essays) is a free time recreational activity that I should be doing outside of working hours. No job, no money, so no essaying, just this rambling blog. I need to find a job, but I also must assuage the guilt I feel so that I can write relatively cogent material. Hopefully I will talk about something else tomorrow.