The Cologne attacks were a disaster for women and migrants

These men believe that a woman out in a public space is asking for it. Some come from cultures where sexism is endemic

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown
Sunday 10 January 2016 19:27
Protesters gather in Cologne after the mass attacks on New Year’s Eve
Protesters gather in Cologne after the mass attacks on New Year’s Eve

It was a good week for implacable anti-immigration warriors, for extremists and regular right-wingers. Gleefully they turned up in newspapers and on radio and TV to denounce multiculturalism and Islam and declare that they were right all along. Non-Europeans were a threat to civilisation and a blight. Their message must have been welcomed by nationalists all across Europe. And who can really blame them?

Women out celebrating New Year’s Eve in Cologne and other German cities were stalked, surrounded, sexually assaulted, abused, humiliated and robbed by gangs of men, hundreds of them. Such incidents were also reported in Finland, Sweden and Switzerland. The onslaughts and thefts seemed to be well co-ordinated. The police watched the drama of sexual violence as if they were at a theatre and did nothing; the German media seemed cowed. Angela Merkel, who did the right thing by admitting desperate Syrian refugees, is now caught in a maelstrom.

According to witness and victim statements, most of the brutes looked Arab or African. Some, it turns out, were asylum seekers. Among the suspects are Algerians, Moroccans, Syrians, Iranians, an Iraqi, a Serbian, an American and a German.

Those of us on the left who believe in equality and justice for all have found these events intolerably hard to deal with. They have led to moral chaos and loss of faith. We need to get over the shock and find our voices. We must take on those who blame migrants and refugees for all vices and political failures. But more importantly, we must unconditionally damn the villains and defend the victims. Anti-racism is weak and unworthy unless it embraces the principles of feminism. Too often it doesn’t.

How frightened and disgusted those women and girls must have been. The men who violated their bodies and integrity deserve no understanding, no mercy. Feminists are rightly outraged. I am outraged. These sex-crazed men obviously believe that a woman out in a public space is asking for it. Some come from cultures where sexism is embedded in families, communities and institutions. In Tahrir Square during the Arab Spring females were sexually assaulted and some raped. In India, women cannot safely go out on to the streets after dusk. Rape is endemic, almost normalised, in South Africa. Some minorities in Europe live by those same depraved values which, I agree, are uncivilised and deplorable.

The furious sexism that now engulfs Merkel and Henriette Reker, the mayor of Cologne, is as uncivilised and deplorable. These two remarkable women are under siege because they are seen as soft on refugees. Last October, Reker was stabbed in the throat by a man who detested her pro-refugee policies. After newspapers reported the Cologne attacks, a Facebook comment (by a woman) went viral: “I would puke when I read this and there are still so many deluded idiots who say ‘welcome refugees’. Close the border now, for God’s sake. Merkel belongs on the scaffold.” Why is it acceptable to insult these female leaders? And to blame all refugees?

“These monstrous men represent the tiniest fraction of the 1.1 million refugees who entered Germany last year. The overwhelming majority are law-abiding, and grateful to their host country.” These words appeared in an editorial in a right-wing newspaper, which then went on to warn readers about the many unskilled young men coming into Europe from war zones and failed states. So, according to this leader writer, that black cleaner in your office, the Arab-looking dustman, the brown-skinned barista, is highly likely to assault your daughters, wives and sisters. You have been warned.

Was there no rape and molestation in Germany or elsewhere in Europe before these outsiders came in? Or are such crimes more heinous if committed by foreigners? A reader assaulted by fellow students at a prestigious university wrote to me last week: “The hypocrisy is disgusting. White men from public school fondled, groped and hand-raped me at an after-exam party. I had to leave halfway through my studies. I told my tutor and he told me to keep quiet for my own sake. Two years later I am at another uni and still frightened. What happened in Cologne happens here too, on our streets at weekends and on campuses.”

Rape statistics in all Western countries are shockingly high. The culture has changed, but behaviour has not. According to Rape Crisis, around 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped each year in England and Wales. Half a million adults are also sexually assaulted. Child rape and molestation is also widespread. Though more crimes are reported and taken to court, conviction rates are still too low.

Admittedly, too many males from the South and East believe white women are easy and available. The British Pakistani grooming gangs acted on these prejudices. The Cologne thugs must have believed they were helping themselves to a sexual buffet freely proffered. However, the racial factor has been over-emphasised. Women of colour as well as white women were assaulted, including asylum-seekers, some of whom have bravely spoken to the media. The men betrayed generous Germany as well as other destitute, distressed asylum seekers who have now lost public sympathy. Joy will have spread among Isis recruits, fascists, purists and other enemies of diversity.

The culture clash today is not between natives and foreigners, the West and the rest, Islam and Judeo-Christianity, but between barbarians of all races and faiths and progressive people of all races and faiths who believe in human dignity, rights and equality. The left needs to wake up to these new schisms otherwise it will languish and rot on the wrong side of history.

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