One day after the news broke that a crowd of about a thousand men of Middle Eastern and North African appearance had molested women in central Cologne on New Year’s Eve, German authorities are in hot water. First there’s the Mayor, Henriette Reker, who at a press conference today appeared to be blaming the victim. As the Guardian reports:
Asked by a journalist how women could protect themselves, Henriette Reker said: “There’s always the possibility of keeping a certain distance of more than an arm’s length – that is to say to make sure yourself you don’t look to be too close to people who are not known to you, and to whom you don’t have a trusting relationship”.[..]
Reker also advised women to “stick together in groups, don’t get split up, even if you’re in a party mood”.[..]
Reker’s comments triggered outrage on social media. Reaction was trending under #einarmlaenge (an arm’s length).
“We will explain our Carnival much better to people who come from other cultures,” she said, “so there won’t be any confusion about what constitutes celebratory behavior in Cologne, which has nothing to do with a sexual frankness.”
Then there’s the question of why the police didn’t do more to prevent the assaults from occurring during the New Year’s Eve celebrations. The Atlantic:
The attacks—and robberies—allegedly occurred in the city’s historic square, which lies between the main train station and the cathedral. About 1,000 men, whom witnesses described to police as Arab or North African, had gathered outside the station and were letting off fireworks. Some were drunk and aggressive, news reports say. Police cleared the square because they feared injuries from the fireworks. But the men soon returned and carried out the attacks with reportedly little to no response from the local police.
Thomas de Maiziere, the German interior minister, the BBC reports, said it shouldn’t be the case the area was first cleared “and then later these events take place and they wait for complaints. The police shouldn’t work like this.”
On top of all this, there’s the failure of the German media to report on the events for several days. Once more, the Guardian:
The German public broadcaster, ZDF, on Wednesday apologised for delays in reporting on the wave of sexual assaults and deciding to postpone a news segment until Tuesday. “The news situation was clear enough. It was a mistake of the 7pm ‘heute’ show not to at least report the incidents,” wrote deputy chief editor Elmar Thevessen on the show’s Facebook page.
Much about the New Year’s Eve attacks is still unclear, including whether the attackers were migrants or second generation (which would represent its own set of problems), how much of the crowd was involved in the assaults, and whether or how they were coordinated (was there, for instance, a social media component). What is apparent is that, during and since, there has been a widespread failure on the part of German authorities and elite institutions. The police failed to protect its citizens, the press dawdled in holding anyone to account (and see, too, those unanswered questions just above), and at least one politician even now seems to struggle to address the issue without suggesting that young women must somehow accommodate the possibility of assaults and “confusion.”
This all carries echoes of the Rotherham scandal, in which British authorities had for years turned a blind eye to a child abuse ring among Pakistani men in the north of England, seemingly at least in part for fear of looking racist. By the time anyone put a stop to it, an estimated 1,400 kids had been abused, often horrifically. Like the German police and politicians in this case—albeit on a much longer and larger scale—the British authorities may have put the need to appear sensitive over the need to enforce core values and basic human rights.
Western liberal elites see themselves both as feminists and as advocates for refugees, immigrants, and minorities. (As a sign at a protest in Cologne on Wednesday, photographed by Reuters, read, “Gegen Sexismus, Gegen Rassismus”—or, “Against Sexism, Against Racism.”) As principles, all of those are fine sentiments. But in the real world, Europe has just admitted large numbers of young men from cultures with aggressively different attitudes towards women. Authorities in Germany and elsewhere, as well as politicians, feminists, and other elites, are going to have to figure out, fast, how to talk and act about the clash of Western absolutes (the ability of women, dressed as they wish, to walk wherever they wish without fear is not up for debate) with immigrant cultures, or many more problems may lie ahead.