Why we can’t stay silent on Germany’s mass sex assaults

Maajid Nawaz writes: Recent mass migration patterns across Europe have meant that misogyny has finally come head to head with anti-racism, multiculturalism is facing off against feminism, and progressive values are wrestling with cultural tolerance.

Yes, it is racist to suspect that all brown men who look like me are rapists. It is bigoted to presume that all Muslim men who share my faith advocate religiously justified rape. It is xenophobic to assume that all male refugees are sexual predators awaiting their chance to rape. But let me be absolutely clear: What will feed this racism, bigotry, and xenophobia even more is deliberately failing to report the facts as they stand. Doing so only encourages the populist right’s rallying cry against “the establishment.”

If liberals do not address such issues swiftly, with complete candor and courage, the far-right and anti-Muslim populist groups will get there first. They have been doing so for a while now.

The far-right street protest group Hogesa, or Hooligans Against Salafism, continues to cause consternation on the streets of Cologne, while the populist-right Pegida has already responded to the New Year’s Eve attacks by announcing a protest in Cologne on Jan. 9.

No, my fellow liberals, these issues cannot be brushed under the carpet or simply willed away. They are not going anywhere, anytime soon. So how can we address this sensibly, without bursting a blood vessel in our Right eye, or missing the blind spot in our Left? [Continue reading…]


Europe should steer clear of anti-refugee sentiment and take sexual assault seriously


Natasha Lennard and Lukas Hermsmeier write: Treating rape as a problem imported from the Middle East and North Africa that can be deported along with refugees grossly ignores and normalizes an already ubiquitous rape culture. Swiss newspaper Neue Zuercher Zeitung warned this week of an “imported macho culture” arriving on German soil with the refugees. The insinuation that Europe does not already have a well-worn macho culture or macho cultures of its own is nothing short of an offense to feminism. Most assaults, after all, take place in German homes: Marital rape was still legal in Germany until 1997.

This is not to say the attacks on New Year’s Eve are not deadly serious. A large number of contemporaneous assaults demand an investigation into whether and how each attack is connected; if there is a connection rooted in certain cultural or societal mores, it should not be dismissed. Currently, details about the attacks remain scarce. We know that at least 18 asylum seekers are suspects and that victims described the perpetrators as looking North African or Arabic — which are broad strokes. And needless to say, most people in Germany of that description are not seeking asylum.

In opposing the right’s racism, we must be able to countenance that a group of refugees could be responsible for the assaults and that these individuals should not be defended. We engage in our own subtle racism if, in defending the rights of refugees in general, we collapse them all into a homogeneous category, because all racism is predicated on treated an entire group of people as an undifferentiated mass. The key is to take these assaults seriously on their own terms and as part of a generalized scourge of sexual harassment and assault, which is not fought by picking out specific ethnic groups. What’s more, we should be suspicious of any people so keen to point out the links between Islamic culture and misogyny if they are not equally concerned with the prevailing violent misogynies in the cultural West. [Continue reading…]


Polarized views on refugees in Germany obstruct serious conversation about integration

Anna Sauerbrey writes: precisely when the country needs a coolheaded conversation about the impact of Germany’s new refugee population, we’re playing musical chairs: Everybody runs for a seat to the left and to the right, afraid to remain in the middle, apparently undecided.

The irony is that the Cologne attacks, by highlighting the issue of refugees and their culture, raise an incredibly important question and at the same time make it almost impossible to have a reasonable conversation about it.

Integration will fail if Germany cannot resolve the tension between its secular, liberal laws and culture and the patriarchal and religiously conservative worldviews that some refugees bring with them. We cannot avoid that question out of fear of feeding the far right. But integration will also fail if a full generation of refugees is demonized on arrival.

The left has long ignored the established correlations between crime and the poverty and poor education that plague refugee communities; the right has long overestimated the link between the refugees’ culture and criminal activity, even when studies show no such link exists (excepting so-called crimes of honor, which are extremely rare).

The real question we should be asking is not whether there is something inherently wrong with the refugees, but whether Germany is doing an effective job of integrating them — and if not, whether something can be done to change that. [Continue reading…]


How New Year’s Eve in Cologne has changed Germany


Der Spiegel reports: A lot happened on New Year’s Eve in Cologne, much of it contradictory, much of it real, much of it imagined. Some was happenstance, some was exaggerated and much of it was horrifying. In its entirety, the events of Cologne on New Year’s Eve and in the days that followed adhered to a script that many had feared would come true even before it actually did. The fears of both immigration supporters and virulent xenophobes came true. The fears of Pegida people and refugee helpers; the fears of unknown women and of Chancellor Angela Merkel. Even Donald Trump, the brash Republican presidential candidate in the US, felt it necessary to comment. Germany, he trumpeted, “is going through massive attacks to its people by the migrants allowed to enter the country.”

For some, the events finally bring to light what they have always been saying: that too many foreigners in the country bring too many problems along with them. For the others, that which happened is what they have been afraid of from the very beginning: that ugly images of ugly behavior by migrants would endanger what has been a generally positive mood in Germany with respect to the refugees.

As inexact and unclear as the facts from Cologne may be, they carry a clear message: Difficult days are ahead. And they beg a couple of clear questions: Is Germany really sure that it can handle the influx of refugees? And: Does Germany really have the courage and the desire to become the country in Europe with the greatest number of immigrants?

The first week of 2016 was a hectic one. Tempers flared and hysteria spread. It should be noted that an attack would have triggered similar national emotions, or the murder of a child in a park or any other crime that touched on our deepest fears and serviced our long-held stereotypes — any crime in which a foreigner was involved. On New Year’s Eve in Cologne, it was — according to numerous witness reports — drunk young men from North Africa who formed gangs to go after defenseless individuals. They humiliated and robbed — and they sexually assaulted women.

Their behavior, and the subsequent discussion of their behavior in the halls of political power in Berlin, in the media and on the Internet, could easily trigger a radical shift in Germany’s refugee and immigration policies. The pressure built up by the images and stories from Cologne make it virtually impossible to continue on as before. That, too, is a paradox: The pressure would be no less intense even if not a single one of the refugees and migrants who arrived in 2015 were among the perpetrators. [Continue reading…]

CNN reports: German authorities have identified 31 people, including 18 asylum-seekers, as suspects in mob sex attacks and muggings in Cologne on New Year’s Eve — one of several such incidents in Europe.

In Cologne, where most of the attacks took place, a police spokesman confirmed Chief Wolfgang Albers was fired Friday. Albers’ dismissal comes amid criticism of his department’s handling of the violence.

One victim of the Cologne violence told CNN there were too few police on the streets to prevent attacks.

“We ran to the police. But we saw the police were so understaffed,” the victim said. “They couldn’t take care of us and we as women suffered the price.”

Spiegel Online reported that groups of men prevented officers from reaching those crying out for help.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has slammed the response of Cologne police while German Justice Minister Heiko Maas was among many who blasted Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker for advising women to keep “more than an arm’s length” from unknown men.

Reker later complained the comments were taken out of context.

Cologne police spokeswoman Christoph Gilles told reporters Friday that some 170 criminal complaints have been filed related to the apparently coordinated attacks, “at least 120 of which have a sexual angle.”

An 80-person investigative team is looking at 250 videos (with about 350 hours of footage), Gilles added.

The suspects include nine Algerian nationals, eight people from Morocco, five from Iran and four from Syria, German interior ministry spokesman Tobias Plate said. Two are German citizens, while one each are from Iraq, Serbia and the United States.

Other German cities had similar attacks that same night, including the northern city of Hamburg, where more than 50 similar incidents were reported. Other European cities also reported attacks.

Six women in Zurich, Switzerland, told authorities they were “robbed from one side, [while] being groped … on the other side” by groups of men described as having dark skin, according to a Zurich police statement released Friday.

And in Helsinki, Finland, police said they are investigating two possible criminal offenses related to New Year’s Eve harassment centered around “a gathering of asylum-seekers.”

Both the Zurich and Helsinki allegations became public well after the incidents took place. [Continue reading…]

As well as the fact that there were significant delays in the reporting of many of these events, another element of the story has as far as I’m aware received virtually no attention: the fact that at the very time these assaults were taking place, every major city in Europe (and much of the rest of the world) was under heightened security because of the anticipated risk of an attack by ISIS.

It’s as though security services in their hypervigilance watching out for masked men brandishing AK-47s and wearing suicide belts, regarded drunken mayhem and mob violence as a distraction. By being geared towards dealing with atrocities, the task of handling law and order got downgraded. The all-important preemptive police-work of keeping the peace, failed.


From Tailhook to Cologne — the patterns in sexual violence


On New Year’s Eve, as many as 1,000 young men who according to police and witnesses were of north African and Arab appearance, took part in mass sexual violence and assaults on women outside the railway station in the German city of Cologne. BBC News reports that more than 100 women and girls have come forward with reports of sexual assault and robbery.

One victim, named as Busra, spoke of a sense of lawlessness outside the station, where the attackers felt they could do as they pleased.

“They felt like they were in power and that they could do anything with the women who were out in the street partying,” she said.

“They touched us everywhere. It was truly terrible.”

One of the most obvious parallels that is now being drawn is with the mass sexual assaults in Cairo that, as The Guardian reported in 2013, “have been endemic at Tahrir protests since at least the 2011 revolution”.

An internal report by Germany’s national police, the Bundespolizei, obtained by Der Spiegel, lists police officers’ experiences including one who quoted a suspect as saying: “I’m a Syrian! You have to treat me kindly! Mrs. Merkel invited me.”

Cologne’s mayor, Henriette Reker, has drawn scorn by suggesting that young women and girls need to protect themselves by adopting a code of conduct which includes, as The Independent reports, “maintaining an arm’s length distance from strangers, to stick within your own group, to ask bystanders for help or to intervene as a witness, or to inform the police if you are the victim of such an assault.”

As the accounts of victims of the attacks make clear, such a code would have been impossible to adopt on New Year’s Eve:

One woman, whose identity has been protected, told German television how gangs of men assaulted her in the crowd.

“All of a sudden these men around us began groping us,” she said. “They touched our behinds and grabbed between our legs. They touched us everywhere.

“So my girlfriend wanted to get out of the crowd. When I turned around one guy grabbed my bag and ripped it off my body.”

She said she felt in extreme danger, but there were no police officers to help.

“I thought to myself that if we stay here in this crowd they could kill us, they could rape us and nobody would notice. I thought we simply had to accept it.

“There was no one around us who helped or was in a position to help. All I wanted was to get out.

“I was scared that I wouldn’t leave this crowd alive. I was scared that if someone showed up with a knife I could be raped in the middle of the street.”

In another account reported by BBC News, a 17-year-old British girl described what she witnessed:

I was at Cologne on New Year’s Eve with my boyfriend. Upon arriving at 10pm at the train station, I felt afraid the moment I saw the strange behaviour of the people around me.

The main station was full of wobbly teenagers and young adults, of all ages, some possibly below 18, very drunk and unaware of their whereabouts. Some had already passed out on the floor in their own vomit.

Bottles were smashed on the ground and you could feel shards of glass crunching beneath your feet with every step.

Fights had taken place in the station and police were trying to contain them, but the amount of fighting made it difficult for the police to focus on every individual dispute.

We walked towards the exit of the station towards the cathedral, only to be welcomed by a huge crowd blocking the exits.

We heard a woman screaming and crying somewhere in the midst of this crowd, appearing to be escaping from a foreign man, who was shouting back and pointing his finger at her and chasing her with his accomplices.

Later on, we saw two men corner women at the cathedral and touch them while they were screaming for help and trying to fight back.

For those in Europe and North America who want to gin up fears of immigrants and refugees, the events in Cologne will seem to demonstrate that their fears are warranted, that Donald Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims is justifiable, and that those of us who repeat the slogan, “refugees welcome!” are naive.

Understandably, the attacks have sent shock-waves through Germany.

In an interview by Human Rights Watch reporting on sexual violence in Egypt in 2013, a young man in typical Western attire with gelled hair, says: “It’s not a good habit, it’s wrong, but they [women] lead us to do this. From the way they dress. From the way they walk. Everything. They push Egyptian men to do this.”

A young woman, in hijab, says: “It has happened to me several times but I don’t always react, because I’m afraid of the reaction from the guy in front of me. And I’m afraid the people around me won’t back me up.”

Al Jazeera reported in 2014:

Many Egyptian men, including members of the police force, either downplay or shrug off sexual harassment, reflecting popular views that women either should remain at home or bring trouble on themselves by dressing provocatively if they go out on the street.

“She can’t go anywhere without me,” Capt. Ahmed Mahmoud, a police officer in a working-class Cairo neighborhood, told the Huffington Post in May, speaking about his wife. “If a woman is wearing provocative clothing, the change needs to come from her.”

If this blame-the-victim mentality represented a distinctive feature of Middle Eastern societies, it might be difficult to counter the arguments being made by those in the West who want to block the entry of refugees, especially young men.

The fact is, however, that a pandemic of sexual violence involves the same factors:

  • a sense of impunity among perpetrators
  • the perpetrators’ belief that their victims deserve to be abused
  • the expectation among victims that they have little chance of finding justice

The perpetrators of most of this violence are not mobs on the rampage; they are the victims’ own intimate partners.

Both on the streets and behind closed doors, alcohol is often a contributing factor.

A 2014 report by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights which found that an estimated 3.7 million women in the EU had been the targets of sexual violence during the preceding 12 months, noted:

Prevalence of physical and/or sexual violence by a current partner is also markedly higher among women whose partner gets drunk frequently. If a current partner is said never to drink, or never to drink so much as to get drunk, the prevalence of this type of violence was 5%. The prevalence climbs, however, to 23% for women whose current partner gets drunk once a month or more often.

In the 1991 Tailhook scandal involving the U.S. Navy and Marines, 83 women and seven men were victims of sexual assault and harassment. The 4,000 attendees in Las Vegas “viewed the annual conference as a type of ‘free fire zone’ wherein they could act indiscriminately and without fear of censure or retribution in matters of sexual conduct or drunkenness,” according to a Pentagon investigation.

While cultural factors in sexual violence should not be ignored, there are ultimately two reasons why this kind of conduct is so commonplace:

  • the perpetrators know they can get away with it;
  • they know this because other men so often turn a blind eye.

Those who now claim that in defense of “our women” we need to guard against a foreign threat, are choosing to ignore the fact that the far more pervasive threat is much closer to home in the familiar face of a former boyfriend, an ex-husband, boyfriend, husband, father, step-father, brother, cousin, friend, or a neighbor.

Guys, the collective failure here is ours.


On perilous refugee trail, women often become prey to sexual abuse

The New York Times reports: One Syrian woman who joined the stream of migrants to Germany was forced to pay down her husband’s debt to smugglers by making herself available for sex along the way. Another was beaten unconscious by a Hungarian prison guard after refusing his advances.

A third, a former makeup artist, dressed as a boy and stopped washing to ward off the men in her group of refugees. Now in an emergency shelter in Berlin, she still sleeps in her clothes and, like several women here, pushes a cupboard in front of her door at night.

“There is no lock or key or anything,” said Esraa al-Horani, the makeup artist and one of the few women here not afraid to give her name. She has been lucky, Ms. Horani said: “I’ve only been beaten and robbed.”

War and violence at home, exploitative smugglers and perilous seas along the way, an uncertain welcome and future on a foreign continent — these are some of the risks faced by tens of thousands of migrants who continue to make their way to Europe from the Middle East and beyond. But at each step of the way, the dangers are amplified for women.

Interviews with dozens of migrants, social workers and psychologists caring for traumatized new arrivals across Germany suggest that the current mass migration has been accompanied by a surge of violence against women. From forced marriages and sex trafficking to domestic abuse, women report violence from fellow refugees, smugglers, male family members and even European police officers. There are no reliable statistics for sexual and other abuse of female refugees. [Continue reading…]


Pegida leader criticised for linking Munich terror plot with city’s refugee intake

The Guardian reports: The leader of Germany’s anti-Islamic Pegida movement has caused indignation by linking a planned terrorist attack on Munich’s railway station with the tens of thousands of refugees who were applauded when they arrived there earlier this year.

In a tweet sent soon after police shut the station, Lutz Bachmann said that Germans who welcomed the refugees as they disembarked from trains should go back there and risk being blown up.

“All welcome-clappers should arrive immediately at Munich’s main train station,” Bachmann posted. He added the hashtag #RefugISISnotWelcome, a swipe at leftwing groups who have held counter-demonstrations at Pegida rallies using the slogan: “Refugees are welcome here.” [Continue reading…]


Forget the sympathy – asylum is a refugee’s right

By Renos Papadopoulos, University of Essex

This year, the media has been full of tragic images of people risking their lives in a desperate attempt to flee their troubled countries. This phenomenon is not new, by any means, but the number of people involved has increased dramatically over a short period.

The statistics – which change almost daily – are staggering. It is estimated that more than 130,000 refugees and migrants have entered the European Union this year and more than 3,000 are known to have perished during their perilous crossing in the Mediterranean from Libya. Around 7,200 landed on just one Greek island, Lesvos, during May 2015. The numbers are equally shocking in other known crossings, notably from Somalia to Yemen and in the Far East to Indonesia and Australia.

The phenomenon is truly overwhelming. Whenever we are overwhelmed, we tend to oversimplify our perception in order to minimise our discomfort.

Perhaps the most common form of oversimplification is polarisation – and this is what we are witnessing around us now in relation to these images and statistics. On one side, some strongly oppose the uncontrolled influx of foreigners, arguing that developed countries can ill afford to host hordes of people. On the other are those who base their argument on compassion, urging governments to offer people dignified assistance in their hour of need.

In fact, neither view hits the mark.

[Read more…]


Syria refugees: Family’s tragedy goes beyond one boy


The New York Times reports: When Alan Kurdi’s tiny body washed up on a beach in Turkey, forcing the world to grasp the pain of Syria’s refugees, the 2-year-old boy was just one member of a family on the run, scattered by nearly five years of upheaval.

As a Turkish officer lifted the boy from the shallow waves at the edge of the Mediterranean Sea, one of Alan’s teenage cousins was alone on a bus in Hungary, fleeing the fighting back home in Damascus.

An aunt was stuck in Istanbul, nursing a baby, as her son and daughter worked 18-hour shifts in a sweatshop so the family could eat. Dozens of other relatives — aunts, uncles and cousins — had fled the war in Syria or were making plans to flee.

And just weeks after Alan’s image shocked the world in September, another aunt prepared to do what she had promised herself to avoid: set sail with four of her children on the same perilous journey.

“We die together, or we live together and make a future,” her 15-year-old daughter said, concluding, as have hundreds of thousands of other Syrians, that there was no going back, and that the way to security led through great risk. [Continue reading…]


Stateless in Europe: ‘We are no people with no nation’

The Guardian reports: Sitting in the living room of her Berlin apartment, Sanaa* [her and her daughter’s name have been changed] watches proudly as her one-year-old daughter clings to the edge of a coffee table and hauls herself to her feet. Siba* squeals with delight, then drops back down with a giggle. Being a single mother is hard work, but filled with daily rewards. Sanaa, who fled the Syrian war, is just thankful for the chance to raise a child.

Experts are warning that children such as Siba could turn into a stateless generation. Though the infant was born in Berlin after her mother arrived from Damascus, there is no automatic German citizenship. And under Syrian law, a child can only inherit nationality from its father. As a single mother, Sanaa was well aware that Siba would be stateless.

“There is no paper for Siba in Syria. Because it’s the law, you don’t have any relations before you are married. People have boyfriends but it’s secret,” Sanaa says. “We just grow up and this is the rule. We didn’t know that the women in other countries can give their nationality [to their children], or we didn’t care because we would get married and the child would have a nationality.”[Continue reading…]


Abdullah Kurdi pleads with the world to open their doors to Syrian refugees


Over a million migrants and refugees have reached Europe this year


The Guardian reports: More than a million people have now reached Europe through irregular means in 2015, the International Organisation for Migration has announced, in what constitutes the continent’s biggest wave of mass migration since the aftermath of the second world war.

Out of a total of 1,005,504 arrivals by 21 December, the vast majority – 816,752 – arrived by sea in Greece, the IOM said. A further 150,317 arrived by sea in Italy, with much smaller figures for Spain, Malta and Cyprus. A total of 34,215 crossed by land routes, such as over the Turkish-Bulgarian border.

The overall figure is a four-fold increase from 2014’s figures, and has largely been driven by Syrians fleeing their country’s civil war. Afghans, Iraqis and Eritreans fleeing conflict and repression are the other significant national groups.

The European migration flow is nevertheless far more manageable than in the Middle East, where roughly 2.2 million Syrian refugees live in Turkey alone. In Lebanon, 1.1 million Syrians form about one-fifth of the country’s total population, while Jordan’s 633,000 registered Syrian refugees make up around a tenth of the total.

The denial of basic rights to refugees in those countries, where almost all Syrians do not have the right to work, is one of the causes of Europe’s migration crisis. Refugees who have lived for several years in legal limbo are now coming to Europe to claim the rights bestowed on them by the 1951 UN refugee convention. [Continue reading…]


Pope Francis attacks consumerist society in midnight mass at Vatican

The Guardian reports: Pope Francis returned to one of his favoured themes in his homily at midnight mass on Christmas Eve at the Vatican, castigating a hedonistic and consumerist society and a culture of indifference.

Meanwhile, one of his senior cardinals, Vincent Nichols, the archbishop of Westminster and the leader of the Catholic church in England, focused his Christmas Eve message on “gratuitous violence” in the home and the suffering of persecuted Christians around the world.

Neither Catholic leader mentioned the continuing refugee crisis, a surprising omission at the end of a year in which the plight of those fleeing conflict, persecution and hardship has dominated international headlines. In September, Francis called on every religious community across Europe to offer sanctuary to refugee families. [Continue reading…]


America moving left — and right


Peter Beinart writes: By the time Barack Obama defeated Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, in part because of her support for the Iraq War, the mood inside the party had fundamentally changed. Whereas the party’s most respected thinkers had once urged Democrats to critique liberal orthodoxy, they now criticized Democrats for not defending that orthodoxy fiercely enough. The presidency of George W. Bush had made Democrats unapologetically liberal, and the presidency of Barack Obama was the most tangible result.

But that’s only half the story. Because if George W. Bush’s failures pushed the Democratic Party to the left, Barack Obama’s have pushed it even further. If Bush was responsible for the liberal infrastructure that helped elect Obama, Obama has now inadvertently contributed to the creation of two movements — Occupy and Black Lives Matter — dedicated to the proposition that even the liberalism he espouses is not left-wing enough.

Given the militant opposition Obama faced from Republicans in Congress, it’s unclear whether he could have used the financial crisis to dramatically curtail Wall Street’s power. What is clear is that he did not. Thus, less than three years after the election of a president who had inspired them like no other, young activists looked around at a country whose people were still suffering, and whose financial titans were still dominant. In response, they created Occupy Wall Street.

When academics from the City University of New York went to Zuccotti Park to study the people who had taken it over, they found something striking: 40 percent of the Occupy activists had worked on the 2008 presidential campaign, mostly for Obama. Many of them had hoped that, as president, he would bring fundamental change. Now the collapse of that hope had led them to challenge Wall Street directly. “Disenchantment with Obama was a driver of the Occupy movement for many of the young people who participated,” noted the CUNY researchers. In his book on the movement, Occupy Nation, the Columbia University sociologist Todd Gitlin quotes Jeremy Varon, a close observer of Occupy who teaches at the New School for Social Research, as saying, “This is the Obama generation declaring their independence from his administration. We thought his voice was ours. Now we know we have to speak for ourselves.”

For a brief period, Occupy captured the nation’s attention. In December 2011, Gitlin notes, the movement had 143 chapters in California alone. Then it fizzled. But as the political scientist Frances Fox Piven has written, “The great protest movements of history … did not expand in the shape of a simple rising arc of popular defiance. Rather, they began in a particular place, sputtered and subsided, only to re-emerge elsewhere in perhaps a different form, influenced by local particularities of circumstance and culture.”

That’s what happened to Occupy. The movement may have burned out, but it injected economic inequality into the American political debate. (In the weeks following the takeover of Zuccotti Park, media references to the subject rose fivefold.) The same anger that sparked Occupy — directed not merely at Wall Street but at the Democratic Party elites who coddled it—fueled Bill de Blasio’s election and Elizabeth Warren’s rise to national prominence. And without Occupy, it’s impossible to understand why a curmudgeonly Democratic Socialist from Vermont is seriously challenging Hillary Clinton in the early primary states. The day Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy, a group of Occupy veterans offered their endorsement. In the words of one former Occupy activist, Stan Williams, “People who are involved in Occupy are leading the biggest group for Bernie Sanders. Our fingers are all over this.”

It’s true that Americans have grown more conservative on some issues over the past few years. Support for gun control has dropped in the Obama era, even as the president and other Democrats have pursued it more aggressively. Republicans also enjoy a renewed advantage on combatting international terrorism, an issue whose salience has grown with the rise of the Islamic State. Still, in an era when government has grown more intrusive, African American activists have grown more confrontational, and long-standing assumptions about sexual orientation and gender identity have been toppled, most Americans are not yelling “stop,” as they began doing in the mid-1960s. The biggest reason: We’re not dealing with the same group of Americans.

On issue after issue, it is the young who are most pleased with the liberal policy shifts of the Obama era, and most eager for more. In 2014, Pew found that Americans under 30 were twice as likely as Americans 65 and older to say the police do a “poor” job of “treating racial, ethnic groups equally” and more than twice as likely to say the grand jury in Ferguson was wrong not to charge Darren Wilson in Michael Brown’s death. According to YouGov, more than one in three Americans 65 and older think being transgender is morally wrong. Among Americans under 30, the ratio is less than one in five. Millennials — Americans roughly 18 to 34 years old — are 21 percentage points less likely than those 65 and older to say that immigrants “burden” the United States and 25 points more likely to say they “strengthen” the country. Millennials are also 17 points more likely to have a favorable view of Muslims. [Continue reading…]

Still, these measures are relative.

In a recent poll of support for Trump among Millennials, 32.2% of young adults aged 18-24 said they would support his ban on Muslims entering the U.S. They were outnumbered by 46.4% being opposed, but the fact that opposition was not found in an overwhelming majority is telling.

As much as it might be true that the Bush era provoked a backlash that pushed America leftward, the ideology of the war on terrorism can be viewed by its advocates as a success in this sense: the core issue perceived by most Americans is their experience of insecurity and any remedy for that insecurity must make them feel safe.

Many Americans express opposition to policies instituted in the name of counterterrorism and yet simultaneously harbor the multifaceted fears which have become a core component in American consciousness.

Insecurity comes in many forms — economic insecurity, fear of police brutality, fear of terrorism, fear of immigrants — but whenever the problem is fear, the remedy is security.

The fact that fear has become the foundation of the American zeitgeist is evident in the varieties of isolationism found across the political spectrum.

Isolationism on the right calls for increased defense spending and stronger borders, while on the left it promotes anti-interventionism and a broad disengagement from global affairs.

This inward turning has happened not only collectively, but also individually. No generation has become less trusting of others than are Millennials.

Millennials Less Trusting of Others

Where trust is so lacking, how can mass movements grow? Where will a sense of human solidarity take root?

Consider the tepid response to Donald Trump’s proposal to exclude Muslims from America. As much as he might have provoked many expressions of principled outrage, why has he not been countered by calls for a massive increase in refugee intake?

The United States is almost 30 times the size of Germany and has four times the population. If the U.S. was to match Germany in its willingness to welcome refugees, President Obama, following Chancellor Merkel’s lead, would be saying we need to accept four million and not a paltry 10,000.

There are 300 cities larger than 100,000 population across America and if all were to accept an average of 500 refugees, this would only amount to a modest intake of 150,000.

The number of Syrian refugees granted asylum in the U.S. in 2015 amounted to one per 172,000 Americans.

Let’s suppose that Americans were to feel collectively strong enough that 1,000 would still feel safe if they were to welcome just one refugee in their communities. This would result in an intake of 322,000 refugees.

The issue here has much less to do with an economic burden or national security, than it has with xenophobic paranoia.

That paranoia might be at its highest concentration in Trump’s America, but it seems to exist in varying dilutions across much of the rest of this nation.

Among the presidential candidates, as the self-declared socialist, Bernie Sanders should have taken the boldest stand on Syrian refugees and he has called on his supporters to sign a petition saying “we should not turn our backs on these refugees escaping violence in the Middle East” — a feel-good sentiment. But when it comes to a call for action, all he appealed for was this:

Support continuing the refugee program that promises to resettle 10,000 Syrians, mostly women and children, who are escaping violence in their home country.

Perhaps he and those in his campaign who arrived there from the Occupy movement personally favor a more radical response to the refugee crisis but have refrained from advocating for this because they believe it would undermine Sander’s electoral viability. Or perhaps this timidity is their own.

Either way, this purported antidote to “anti-immigrant hysteria” nevertheless seems to accommodate rather than challenges America’s more pervasive fears.


A Christmas of despair for Syrian Christian refugees in Lebanon


The Washington Post reports: Not so many years ago, Christmas Day for the Kouriehs began with Mass at the village church. The family would return home for an afternoon feast of rice and meat with sides of salad and hummus.

Neighbors would stop by to extend holiday greetings. Children would play next to the Christmas tree.

That was before the Islamic State and other extremists started kidnapping Christians like the Kouriehs, before the relentless violence, before civil war tore apart their country.

That was before the Kouriehs had to flee Syria for their lives.

“It used to be beautiful there,” Joseph Kourieh, 57, recalled from the dilapidated apartment in Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, where he, his wife and five of his grown children now live.

More than a million Syrians have taken refuge in neighboring Lebanon, a country of barely 4 million people that can hardly cope with the influx. Among the mostly Muslim refugees are hundreds and possibly thousands of Syrian Christian families that also endure the hardship and humiliation of displacement. [Continue reading…]