How the debate about Cologne’s “Silvesternacht” all went wrong

A version of the following article was first published in Al Ard – Die Welt in Berlin, for which I work as the chief editor. It was published in both German and Arabic language. See here the English version:

The massive sexual assaults in the last night of 2015 around Cologne central station had vast implications on both asylum and the sexual offences act. These political knee-jerk reactions mirror a fatal public debate about the origin of the offenders and allegedly imported sexual violence against women.

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This night still moves us. A night full of disinhibition, loss of state control and sexual assaults. A collective loss of protection and security. Incredible. New year’s eve 2016, around Cologne Central Station: hundreds of women were sexually assaulted, hard-pressed and robbed by a marauding horde of more or less organised men. The days after many believed this would be both a political and societal turning point. But nobody was sure about what exactly would change now.

Because a lot of the suspects and actual offenders turned out to be people who identified as asylum seekers, these assaults were immediately connected to the considerable migration movements to Germany of the year 2015. During the weeks after new year’s eve social climate was downright toxic: In social media, people disinhibited completely and flooded the internet with the most wicked racist verbal diarrhoea. At the liberal end of the social spectrum, the educated middle class denied everyone having any sense of humanity, who dared to question the then practised asylum policies in any way.

A lot happened but no answer to the most urging problem

The media was criticised as well for their belated coverage. They now had to discuss whether it is justified to name an offenders origin or ethnicity, no matter if this actually plays a role or not (Other than in anglo-american media the german consensus is not to). A great number of commentators feared the german public now would finally split into extremely polarised camps. The government’s reactions seemed helpless in their effort to rapidly tightening up both the asylum and sexual offences act.

You see, a lot happened last year. But there’s no answer so far to the most urging problem: Sexual violence and a molesting culture against women. The whole issue was so rapidly consumed by the left and right wing groups trying to push forward their agenda in the so-called “refugee-debate”. Therefore nobody seemed to talk about the fact that this wasn’t a new unknown phenomenon brought into the country by the allegedly pervy orientals. That this problem is also deeply rooted in german society itself.

Just another story about some rape somewhere in the paper

However, the problem is, that domestic issues are not so easily addressed because they’re not as visible as the Cologne events were. It is just too common and happens every day. Once in a crowded metro – suddenly you got a hand in your crotch. Once on your way home – random people commenting on your decollete. Once – just another story about some rape somewhere in the paper. Sexist, molesting and assaulting behaviour is still everyday behaviour as it has always been. But: Instead of thinking about whether our society has a problem with a specific type of masculinity the debate only raised the question whether only recently we have a problem with a foreign type of masculinity.

As if this wasn’t enough, also the victims were blamed and their advocates attacked. Feminists had to explain themselves why they had been so silent after the events, while their opponents already delivered what they thought to be the answer: If feminists would speak out now, they had to acknowledge the fact of imported violence by culturally unfamiliar foreigners. What was ignored here is, that these women and feminists just didn’t want to be instrumentalised by people, who just recently discovered the feminist inside and felt appointed to protect “our good german women” from evil foreign lechers.

A racist misogynist as US-president

All that happened would have been a chance for the whole society – and yes, also the newly arrived members – to think together about which forms of masculinity we are willing to tolerate from this point on and how we challenge and change the sexism in our culture and in our heads. Because only then we will stop to reproduce sexism.

The western world is good in presenting itself as if values like freedom, equality and justice have been invented here. But reactionary tendencies as we see not only in countries like Hungary, France or Germany but also in the USA – that just made a racist misogynist president – reveal a very different signal to the world: for now, it seems, you can just go on grabbing.

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