Will Germany give up on European integration?

Ivan Krastev writes: The millions of people storming the borders of the European Union today are right to believe that migration is the best revolution. It is a revolution of the individual, not the masses. The European Union is more attractive than any 20th-century utopia, for the simple reason that it exists. But as it looks today, the migrants’ revolution could easily inspire a counterrevolution in Europe.

The myriad acts of solidarity toward refugees fleeing war and persecution that we saw months ago are today overshadowed by their inverse: a raging anxiety that these same foreigners will compromise Europe’s welfare model and historic culture. Cellphone images of foreign-looking men attacking and abusing German women during New Year’s in Cologne crystallized the fear that liberal governments are too weak and confused to defend Europe, and that the situation with migration is spiraling out of control.

Even before Cologne, a majority of Germans had started to doubt that their country could integrate those hundreds of thousands of Syrians, Afghans and others who have arrived in the last year. Chancellor Angela Merkel, who until recently was the symbol of the European Union’s self-confidence and resilience, is now portrayed as a Gorbachev-like figure, noble but naïve, somebody whose “Wir shaffen es” — “We can do it” — policy has put Europe at risk.

But it is not only the refugees who have arrived, and those on the way, that keep Berlin’s government on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Germany has a second, less discussed but no less disturbing integration problem: European integration itself. [Continue reading…]

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Russia’s manipulation of Germany’s refugee problems

Judy Dempsey writes: Russia’s propaganda machine—which went full blast against members of the Ukrainian government during the Ukraine crisis, labeling them fascists and anti-Semites—is in full swing again. This time, the target is Germany, once considered Russia’s closest ally in Europe.

Ever since Chancellor Angela Merkel declared her intention to allow refugees from Syria to enter Germany, the Russian media have been reporting every twist and turn of the opposition that is building up in her conservative bloc and among sections of the German public to her open-door refugee policy.

But in recent days, the Russian state media, joined by none other than Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, have taken a different turn. They are tapping into Germany’s community of 1.2 million ethnic Russians to criticize Merkel’s policies and boost those who are unequivocally against Germany taking in refugees. The community is known for its conservative if not xenophobic views, as witnessed during demonstrations by Germany’s anti-Islam Pegida movement, in which ethnic Russians participate.

Now, Russia may be using Germany’s Russian-speaking community to create further opposition to Merkel, similar to the way it tries to instrumentalize the ethnic Russian communities in the Baltic states. Merkel is an easy target, certainly for many Russians living in Germany and for Russians back home. To the surprise and annoyance of the Kremlin, Merkel has managed to keep the EU united over maintaining sanctions on Russia after it annexed Crimea in March 2014 and subsequently invaded eastern Ukraine. [Continue reading…]

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In the face of mounting opposition, Angela Merkel holds to her principles on accepting refugees

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Der Spiegel reports: On a Sunday evening in early January, Angela Merkel went to a piano concert by Antonio Acunto in the Konzerthaus on Berlin’s beautiful Gendarmenmarkt. The program included works from Chopin, Rachmaninoff and Schumann, but the chancellor didn’t just come for the music. It was also for a good cause and to show support. The concert was a benefit for the refugees. Her refugees.

Shortly before the concert began, Merkel saw an old acquaintance: Reverend Rainer Eppelmann. In 1990, Eppelmann was head of the Democratic Awakening, a party formed in East Germany soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Merkel was its spokesperson. The party was ultimately folded into the Christian Democratic Union, of which Merkel is now the head.

At the concert, Eppelmann told Merkel how courageous and wonderful he thought her refugee policies were. Given the situation in which Merkel is now in, Eppelmann said, he finds himself thinking often about his favorite quote from the former Czech president and writer Vaclav Havel. “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”

The concert began and Merkel listened to a melancholic Chopin ballad in G-minor. When the intermission arrived, she jumped up from her chair and walked directly over to Eppelmann. She asked: “How did that quote about hope go again?”

It is completely unclear how the experiment will end that the German chancellor has forced upon the European Continent, upon her fellow citizens and, not least, upon her party. Her decision late last summer to open the German border to refugees transformed Merkel into a historic figure. It was the most consequential decision of her entire decade in office. [Continue reading…]

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Can Angela Merkel save Europe?

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An interview of George Soros by Gregor Peter Schmitz of the German magazine WirtschaftsWoche: Gregor Peter Schmitz: When Time put German Chancellor Angela Merkel on its cover, it called her the “Chancellor of the Free World.” Do you think that is justified?

George Soros: Yes. As you know, I have been critical of the chancellor in the past and I remain very critical of her austerity policy. But after Russian President Vladimir Putin attacked Ukraine, she became the leader of the European Union and therefore, indirectly, of the Free World. Until then, she was a gifted politician who could read the mood of the public and cater to it. But in resisting Russian aggression, she became a leader who stuck her neck out in opposition to prevailing opinion.

She was perhaps even more farsighted when she recognized that the migration crisis had the potential to destroy the European Union, first by causing a breakdown of the Schengen system of open borders and, eventually, by undermining the common market. She took a bold initiative to change the attitude of the public. Unfortunately, the plan was not properly prepared. The crisis is far from resolved and her leadership position—not only in Europe but also in Germany and even in her own party—is under attack.

Schmitz: Merkel used to be very cautious and deliberate. People could trust her. But in the migration crisis, she acted impulsively and took a big risk. Her leadership style has changed and that makes people nervous.

Soros: That’s true, but I welcome the change. There is plenty to be nervous about. As she correctly predicted, the EU is on the verge of collapse. The Greek crisis taught the European authorities the art of muddling through one crisis after another. This practice is popularly known as kicking the can down the road, although it would be more accurate to describe it as kicking a ball uphill so that it keeps rolling back down. The EU now is confronted with not one but five or six crises at the same time.

Schmitz: To be specific, are you referring to Greece, Russia, Ukraine, the coming British referendum, and the migration crisis?

Soros: Yes. And you haven’t even mentioned the root cause of the migration crisis: the conflict in Syria. Nor have you mentioned the unfortunate effect that the terrorist attacks in Paris and elsewhere have had on European public opinion.

Merkel correctly foresaw the potential of the migration crisis to destroy the European Union. What was a prediction has become the reality. The European Union badly needs fixing. This is a fact but it is not irreversible. And the people who can stop Merkel’s dire prediction from coming true are actually the German people. I think the Germans, under the leadership of Merkel, have achieved a position of hegemony. But they achieved it very cheaply. Normally hegemons have to look out not only for their own interests, but also for the interests of those who are under their protection. Now it’s time for Germans to decide: Do they want to accept the responsibilities and the liabilities involved in being the dominant power in Europe?

Schmitz: Would you say that Merkel’s leadership in the refugee crisis is different from her leadership in the euro crisis? Do you think she’s more willing to become a benevolent hegemon?

Soros: That would be asking too much. I have no reason to change my critical views on her leadership in the euro crisis. Europe could have used the kind of leadership she is showing now much earlier. It is unfortunate that when Lehman Brothers went bankrupt in 2008, she was not willing to allow the rescue of the European banking system to be guaranteed on a Europe-wide basis because she felt that the prevailing German public opinion would be opposed to it. If she had tried to change public opinion instead of following it, the tragedy of the European Union could have been avoided.

Schmitz: But she wouldn’t have remained chancellor of Germany for ten years.

Soros: You are right. She was very good at satisfying the requirements and aspirations of a broad range of the German public. She had the support of both those who wanted to be good Europeans and those who wanted her to protect German national interest. That was no mean feat. She was reelected with an increased majority. But in the case of the migration issue, she did act on principle, and she was willing to risk her leadership position. She deserves the support of those who share her principles.

I take this very personally. I am a strong supporter of the values and principles of an open society because of my personal history, surviving the Holocaust as a Jew under the Nazi occupation of Hungary. And I believe that she shares those values because of her personal history, growing up under Communist rule in East Germany under the influence of her father, who was a pastor. That makes me her supporter although we disagree on a number of important issues. [Continue reading…]

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American victim of Cologne sex attacks recounts how she was rescued by Syrian refugees

At the core of Christianity is the commandment to “love your neighbor as you love yourself,” so you’d think that in a country with so many loudly professing Christians, there really wouldn’t be any debate about whether America should welcome refugees.

Indeed, when it came to clarifying who should be described as a neighbor, Jesus chose to illustrate this teaching through a parable that cast a Samaritan — considered by most Jews at that time as an enemy — as the exemplar of the principle of universal love.

The teaching doesn’t go: love your neighbors after they’ve been vetted by the FBI, so long as you’re sure they’re Christian, and so long as you own a gun to protect yourself.

After the mass sex attacks in Cologne helped fuel a new round of anti-refugee hysteria, a Good Samaritan story has emerged in which a 27-year-old American woman recounts how she was saved that night by the intervention of strangers — a group of men who turned out to be Syrian refugees.

The New York Times reports: Caught up in a melee of drunken revelers outside the Cologne train station on New Year’s Eve, Caitlin Duncan, a neuroscience student from Seattle, was terrified. She had somehow gotten separated from her German boyfriend, who had both their cellphones and her wallet. Ms. Duncan, 27, said that she was quickly surrounded and groped by several young men: One snatched her hat from her head, another tried to kiss her face and neck.

Like many of the hundreds of women who later said they had been assaulted in the crowd, Ms. Duncan sought help from the police, but said the officers were too busy trying to clear the square. But unlike other victims, whose complaints of attacks by foreigners of North African and Arab descent have ignited new debate about Germany’s ability to absorb migrants, Ms. Duncan said she was rescued by a group of Syrian asylum seekers.

Amid the swirl of criminal chaos, it seems, there were also acts of chivalry.

As the crowd swelled and grew more unruly, Ms. Duncan said, a stranger came up and asked if she needed help. Both of them spoke broken German, so the stranger summoned a friend who spoke English. He was Hesham Ahmad Mohammad, from Aleppo, Syria, who had met up in Cologne for the holiday with six or seven other Syrian refugees scattered around Germany.

The men offered Ms. Duncan money for a taxi to her boyfriend’s parents’ home: “the only address I knew,” she said. They would happily have called her boyfriend, Sebastian Samer, but Ms. Duncan had relied on speed-dial and could not remember the number. “I know there’s a lot of 7s,” she thought, “but that’s not helping me right now.”

She persuaded the men to form a kind of cordon around her so they could move through the crowd. She described her boyfriend to them, and they eventually found him inside the station. She cried. “I was just so relieved,” she recalled later.

Mr. Ahmad Mohammad, a former primary-school teacher, said he had left Aleppo, a scene of tremendous fighting in the Syrian civil war, in 2014 for Turkey, and had arrived in Germany via the Balkans and Austria in September. He said he had left his wife and two sons in a village near the Syrian-Turkish border and was living in a small town near Cologne with two other Syrians, studying German as he awaited asylum.

He said in a telephone interview on Friday that he and his friends had also felt unsafe on New Year’s, and blamed “bad boys” who were “drinking, and I think taking marijuana or something. They lost their minds.” Now, they worry that Germans and other Europeans are drawing conclusions that will make it harder for new arrivals. [Continue reading…]

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Germany’s right-wing AfD party surges to new high amid concern over refugees

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The Independent reports: Germany’s eurosceptic right-wing party has hit a new all-time high in the opinion polls as concern about migration rises in the country.

Alternative for Germany (AfD) would take 11.5 per cent of the vote is a federal general election were held today, according to a poll for Bild magazine.

The party is in third place after Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU, who are on 35 per cent. The centre-left social democrats are on 21.5 per cent.

The Green Party and the Left Party are on 10 per cent each, while the centre-right liberal FDP would re-enter parliament on 6 per cent after it was wiped out in the most recent Federal elections. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS suicide bomber targets foreign tourists in Istanbul

Hurriyet Daily News reports: An Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militant killed at least 10 foreign nationals, most of them Germans, and wounded 15 other people after blowing himself up at a tourist spot in Istanbul’s old city on Jan. 12.

Nabil Fadli, a 28-year-old ISIL militant of Syrian origin who was born in Saudi Arabia in 1988, blew himself up after blending into a tourist group of 33 German citizens on a visit to the Obelisk of Theodosius in Sultanahmet Square near the Blue Mosque in the morning hours of Jan. 12 when the popular square was relatively less crowded compared to the rest of the day.

Tourist sites including the Hagia Sophia and the nearby Basilica Cistern were closed by the Istanbul Governor’s Office following the attack.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said all victims killed in the Sultanahmet suicide attack were foreigners while the suicide bomber was an ISIL militant. [Continue reading…]

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Sexism is not an imported product

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Silke Stöckle and Marion Wegscheider, whose original article in German appeared in marx21, write: The NYE festivities in Cologne, Hamburg and other cities witnessed a high number of sexual attacks on women, and in at least one case, a rape. It is disturbing that this could happen, and outrageous that the authorities in the first instance failed to take victims’ reports seriously.

Sexual violence against women in Germany is in general a large and indeed a long-existing problem: women are commonly and frequently sexually harassed at large festivals, at the Oktoberfest in Munich or during the Carnival in Cologne and other cities. According to a new study commissioned by the Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, one in seven women in Germany experiences sexual violence. One in four women – irrespective of education level or socio-economic status – is exposed to domestic violence. The perpetrators are almost always men, among whom no significant distinction according to religion, background, educational level or social status exists.

In other words, every day there are more than enough reasons for a society-wide outcry over sexism and sexualised violence in Germany. Both phenomena are closely connected to the dominant image of women. Accordingly, sexual assaults on women are all too often not taken seriously, and are at first marginalised – as in Cologne, where victims have had the pleasure of being schooled by local politicians about “rules of behaviour for mass gatherings”, as though the victims, in the face of their determined assaulters, had the possibility to negotiate their way out of harm.

Women are continually portrayed as sexual objects in films, advertising and mass media. But more than this, women’s oppression is structurally anchored in our society, evidenced by differences in pay, employment opportunities or dominant role models. There is no equality here, despite frequent public proclamations to the contrary.

Rather than connecting the events in Cologne and Hamburg to the everyday sexist violence faced by women in Germany, politicians and the media establishment have, from the moment the events occurred, focused above all on the background of the alleged perpetrators, and on questions of public security. Where sexual molestation is acknowledged as a structural manifestation at all, it is only ever in relation to the “culture” in the supposed countries of origin of the perpetrators. In this way, the debate about the attacks has been instrumentalised from the get-go and, in line with a classic racist line of argument, Muslims or refugees have been stereotyped en masse. [Continue reading…]

Deutsche Welle reports: A few kilometers away [from the main station in Cologne], in the “Multi Kulti” center in the neighborhood of Mülheim, several women have gathered in an attempt to work out what measures should be taken to make the streets of Cologne safe again.

“No one is talking about the fact that this is happening to women every day,” Tanja, an activist and one of the initiators of the event told DW.

“People are insisting on making this a political story, trying to shift the focus on pro- or anti-refugees. But in fact, no one is listening to what we have to say – the women who have been suffering from this violence in the streets on a daily basis long before refugees even came here,” she says.

The violence on New Year’s Eve was not different from that during any other big-scale celebration in the city, according to Tanja. “Because refugees are now a burning topic, the media all of a sudden report about these events, but what nobody wants to admit is that these things happen all the time. I’m sorry to break this to you, but German-born men also harass and rape.” [Continue reading…]

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Germany’s welcome for refugees has to survive the Cologne attacks

Doris Akrap writes: Too often in the past few days I have heard the Willkommenskultur-Germans saying they feel “exploited”, “abused”, “cheated”. We know this behaviour. It’s like angry parents whose children have got into trouble: “I did everything for you and what do you do?” As every parent, every German, has to learn: just like every child, every refugee is an individual. Not every refugee will study hard and become a doctor. No, some refugees will get drunk on New Year’s Eve and make a whole lot of mess.

I don’t want to trivialise sexual attacks. And I don’t want to deny the possibility that some people from the Middle East may have greater problems with women and alcohol than others. Nobody ever said that the refugees, even when they were wrapped in insulation blankets after arriving over the Mediterranean, were all angels. You’re sure to find bigots, antisemites and criminal gangs among them, just as you’ll find racists, rapists and arsonists among the German population (there were more than 200 arson attacks on refugee accommodation in Germany last year).

But my fear is that Willkommenskultur could end up as nothing more than a slogan. The people who always wanted it to fail, who believe in a Germans-only state, are abusing the fears and insecurities we all have over the background of the new arrivals. And more than that, they are abusing the dozens of women who were victims of assault on New Year’s Eve. [Continue reading…]

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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…]

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

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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…]

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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…]

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Victim of Cologne attacks says ‘we were systematically sexually harassed’

Der Spiegel reports: The stories of Lara, Jeanette and Paul, three university students from Bonn, paint a vivid picture of what so many women experienced on New Year’s Eve. The trio had traveled to Cologne with two other female friends because the parties there are simply better than they are in Bonn. They arrived at the square in front of the train station just as the police were clearing it. They didn’t know what was going on — all they saw was police officers in helmets pushing people back. They continued on to the banks of the Rhine River, a vantage point from which they could view the fireworks, when Jeanette realized that her money, ID and entry ticket for that night’s club had been stolen.

At midnight, they shared a bottle of cheap champagne out of plastic cups and then headed back to the central train station. In front of the stairs leading from the cathedral down to the train station, they had to squeeze past a large group of men. They locked hands, letting Jeanette take the lead because she knew judo. Paul tried to provide some cover for the girls. At one point, Lara cried out: “Someone just grabbed my crotch!” That was just the beginning.

Hands seemed to come from every direction to grab the women’s bodies. They always went for between the legs. Paul’s attempts to protect the women were futile. Providing cover for one left another to fend for herself. “It was one hand after another,” Jeanette says. She was able to throw one attacker “really violently to the side” with a judo grip.

None of the three students can say for sure who attacked them. They are, however, all in agreement that all of the men surrounding them were speaking the same language, and that it sounded a lot like Arabic.

What Lara, Jeanette and Paul experienced in Cologne wasn’t unique to that city. Police reports indicate that a large group of men also gathered along the famous street in Hamburg’s St. Pauli district known as Grosse Freiheit, most of whom were probably of North African descent. These men committed a series of “property thefts with sexual components.”

In Stuttgart, a 20-year-old Iraqi has been in custody since the morning of Jan. 1 for allegedly groping two women at the city’s Schlossplatz square. Police in Frankfurt am Main have reported similar incidents.

Jeanette and Lara, the two students from Bonn, went to the police six days after New Year’s to file complaints for sexual assault. “We want this to be documented,” Lara says. It makes them furious to read in the newspaper that what happened in Cologne came from the pickpocket milieu. The way Lara sees it: “We were systematically sexually harassed.”

By the time Jeanette, Lara and Paul boarded the delayed train that would take them back to Bonn on New Year’s, it was 2 a.m. During the ride, they met a young Syrian who told them about his flight from Damascus through Lebanon and Turkey and eventually by boat to Greece. From there, he continued on foot through the Balkans and on to Germany. Afterwards, they told him about their night in Cologne. He was horrified, they say. [Continue reading…]

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How New Year’s Eve in Cologne has changed Germany

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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.

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From Tailhook to Cologne — the patterns in sexual violence

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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.

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