Cologne Sex Attacks: The Dilemma of Racism

Cologne Sex Attacks

The Dilemma of Racism

After the events that took place in big German cities on New Year’s Eve came to light, one part of the public debate was focused on whether it is politically correct to name the perpetrator’s origin or whether that is racist because it would play into the hands of the ones who have been warning of things like that happening all along?

Köln zum Jahreswechsel

Silvester 2015, as New Year’s Eve is called, started out as it usually does in Germany: people gathered on the streets to party and watch the fireworks. Only a few days later, it became apparent that what happend that night was not normal after all. Among others, in the cities of Cologne (German: Köln) and Hamburg, sex crimes, robbery, and stealing took place. According to a Cologne police report from January 9th, the facts are as follows:

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Overall the police have received 379 complaints in connection to the events on New Year’s Eve. In about 40 percent the detectives are investigating partially grave sexual offenses. The investigation is focused on individuals originating from North African countries who are mainly asylum seekers and people who are staying in Germany illegally.

Insgesamt liegen zu den Geschehnissen in der Silvesternacht am Hauptbahnhof Köln mittlerweile 379 Strafanzeigen vor. In etwa 40 Prozent der Fälle ermitteln die Kriminalbeamten unter anderem wegen Sexualstraftaten. Die im Focus der kriminalpolizeilichen Ermittlungen stehenden Personen stammen größtenteils aus nordafrikanischen Ländern. Größtenteils handelt es sich um Asylsuchende und Personen, die sich illegal in Deutschland aufhalten.

In a statement issued by Cologne’s police department shortly after Silvester, the night was called “peaceful”. This statement and similar press statements given by the now-fired Cologne chief of police has led some German Internet users to believe that there is a policy guideline to muzzle the media and actively supress negative reporting when it comes to refugees. The German right-wing blog Netzplanet, for example, whose unambiguous xenophobic standpoint has generated almost 20,000 Facebook fans, wrote:

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What happened to these women is horrible & unforgettable for the rest of their lives. If the mendacious press had an ounce of (professional) honor, they would also write about the suffering of the victims instead of always coming to the defense of the perpetrators. But why would such romantic assholes be interested that such victims sometimes are afraid of being alone and in the presence of men, sleep with the lights on for months, won’t leave the house anymore. These poor people are traumatized & they aren’t the ones who have traversed half of Europe with a charged cellphone and clean brand-name clothes & arrive in Germany relaxed and smiling & to hold out a tin cup.

Was den Frauen passiert ist, ist schrecklich & ein Leben lang unvergesslich. Würde die Lügenpresse auch nur einen Funken ( Berufs )Ehre haben, würden sie auch mal über das Leid der Opfer schreiben, anstatt immer nur die Täter in Schutz zu nehmen. Aber warum sollten sich so weltfremde Arschlöcher dafür interessieren, dass solche Opfer zum Teil Angst alleine & in Gegenwart von Männern haben, monatelang bei Licht schlafen, das Haus nicht mehr verlassen (…) Solche armen Personen sind traumatisiert & niemand der halb Europa durchquert & mit geladenem Handy, sauberen Markenklamotten & entspannt grinsend in Deutschland ankommt & die Hand aufhält.

It isn’t only the far right-wing nuts who often claim “to say it like it is” anymore. The conservative weekly magazine Focus also complained on its webpage:

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And while you would assume that in a country where every wrong word and every supposedly wrong look would lead to a feminist #outcry, confronted with these unbelievable events the feminists online stay quiet. The reason for that is simple: They were the wrong perpetrators. According to eyewitness reports and witness statements of the victims, they were in fact Arabian-looking men. How on earth can the police search for the perpetrators if it is no longer allowed to describe them? And yes, dammit, it is important how someone looked, it is just as relevant as the question which language that person spoke, which accent he had and approximately how old that person was.

Und während man spontan vermutet, in einem Land, in dem jedes falsche Wort und jeder vermeintlich falsche Blick zu einem feministischen #aufschrei führt (…) bleibt das feministische Netz angesichts dieser unglaublichen Vorgänge in Köln stumm. (…) Der Grund ist einfach: Es waren wohl die falschen Täter. Laut Augenzeugenberichten und Zeugenaussagen der betroffenen Opfer, waren es nämlich arabisch aussehende Männer, (…). Wie um Himmels willen soll nach Tätern gefahndet werden, wenn es nicht mehr möglich sein darf, sie zu beschreiben? Und ja, verdammt, es ist relevant, wie jemand aussah, genauso relevant, wie die Frage, welche Sprache er sprach, welchen Akzent er hatte oder wie alt er ungefähr war.

And the left-wing newspaper taz also explaines why it favours a definite wording:

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The perpetrators in Cologne were obviously of non-German origin. To conceal that does not make sense. That would just give fuel to the widely spread conspiracy theory that politicians and the media go easy on this population group.

Die Straftäter in Köln waren ganz offenbar nichtdeutscher Herkunft. Dies zu verschweigen ergibt keinen Sinn. Das würde nur die weit verbreitete Verschwörungstheorie bestärken, dass Politik und Medien diese Bevölkerungsgruppe schonen würde.

In an English article, the German news website Spiegel Online sees Germany changed due to the events in Cologne and concludes:

What should be done? An attempt at complete honesty would be a good start. Germans are not children who need to be protected from the truth for well-intended reasons. And part of the truth is the fact that politicians like to talk about integration but have not yet given any indication that they understand the magnitude of the challenge facing them. Another part of the truth is this: German society is becoming increasingly divided.

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