Notes From the Margins…

The Knights of Cologne

  • January 14, 2016
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As a sixty-year-old man I obviously can’t speak with a great deal of authority on what it’s like to be a young woman in Europe.  Nevertheless I  am the parent of a twenty-year-old daughter who likes to go out at night.   Recently she was at a club when a stranger propositioned her.  When she told him that she had a boyfriend, this fine upstanding specimen of 21st century manhood ordered her to kiss her boyfriend to prove it.

My daughter rejected these orders too, on the not unreasonable grounds that she did not have to prove who she ‘belonged’ to to any man, let alone a complete stranger.  This episode was one of countless similar incidents that she and her friends have experienced ever since she started going out.  Over the years I have become accustomed to stories of her visits to clubs and pubs where men routinely grope and sexually bully young women with a horrible sense of entitlement.

Contrary to accepted wisdom in certain quarters, such behavior is not limited to any particular age, nationality, culture or ethnic group.    It includes the middle-aged Spanish men who somehow managed to infiltrate the  Benicassim festival and ground themselves up against my daughter and her dancing friends when she was seventeen.  It includes the middle-aged Italian who harassed her and her friend in a Genoa park when she was eighteen.

So my daughter has learned to live with such behavior.  She knows that it is not safe to be on the streets unaccompanied at night in any European city, because a woman can be attacked anywhere and by anyone.    A YouGov survey for the End Violence Against Women Coalition found that 43 percent of women aged 18-24 were sexually harassed in public places in 2012, including girls as young as 12.  According to Rape Crisis, 85,000 women were raped in the UK last year.

Today, in the early 21st century, violence, harassment and the sexual intimidation of women is as common as it was when the first wave of feminists began to challenge it with the ‘reclaim the night’ marches of the early 70s.   To point out that such behavior is routine and even universal does not mean that it is acceptable or that it should be treated as an inevitable expression of masculinity.  When men behave like this,    society needs to find ways to make them stop and ensure that women can feel safe from sexual violence and intimidation wherever they are.

Needless to say, that is not the debate that we have been having since the grim events that unfolded in Cologne on New Year’s Eve.  The reports of what took place that night have been confused and contradictory. Nevertheless it is now clear that hundreds of mostly MENA-region men embarked on a drunken and semi-organized spree of robbery and rampant sexual violence, in which hundreds of women at the city’s train station were terrorised and assaulted, while the local police apparently stood by and did nothing about it.

This brutal and deeply depressing episode has acted as a wake-up call to chivalrous warriors across the continent, who have risen up like modern-day Galahads and Lancelots to defend the flower of European womanhood.  They include men like ‘Tommy Robinson’ who flew in to a Pegida rally to tell protesters that ‘Islam is a cancer and Pegida is the cure’ and that  “it is our God-given right and duty to protect our women. It”s what men do.”

Or the group of ‘bikers, hooligans, and bouncers’ who organized a ‘human hunt’ in Cologne three days ago beating up any ‘foreigner’  they could find in order to ‘clean up the city’, because naturally the only logical response when ‘our’ women are attacked is to go out and beat up any dark-skinned man who may or may not be a ‘foreigner.’

And then there is Nigel ‘I’ve got so many women pregnant over the years’ Farage, who has linked the Cologne attacks to the refugee crisis and said that we need to uphold ‘our values’ to keep out the ungrateful refugee hordes.  And the Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, who has cited the Cologne attacks as evidence that ‘multiculturalism has failed’ and declared that ‘the migrants cannot be integrated.  It’s impossible’.

Elsewhere men are pouring forth their rage on comments columns, and Internet websites, such as  “Hans-Werner Link” who wrote on Facebook: ‘Where were the girls screaming welcome this time? Those whores would certainly have loved to have their crotches or tits grabbed by countless hands.’

Noble sentiments, and the woman of Europe can only be thankful they have champions like this to fight for them.   There is a lot more where this came from.   No one can be surprised that  this horrific episode has been seized upon by the European right and far-right, because this is what always happens.  Just as paedophilia only becomes a ‘cultural’ phenomenon when it is associated with ‘Muslim grooming gangs’, it seems that sexual violence against women is only interesting or important when it can be blamed on the barbarian ‘sex mobs’  who are targeting ‘our’ women, and linked to a supposedly politically-correct liberal establishment intent on facilitating and protecting such behaviour.

That doesn’t mean that the horrific events of New Years’s Eve should be  minimized or downplayed.  It may well be true that the men who carried out those attacks regarded German women as fair game and somehow deserving of such treatment –  I’ve certainly come across attitudes like this in my own travels in Morocco, for example, to suggest that such attitudes are not unusual.

It also seems clear that some of the perpetrators were asylum seekers, including Syrians. Again, this is not entirely surprising.  Just because men have fled war zones doesn’t make them innately virtuous, and oppression and violence are not incompatible with  unreconstructed sexism.   Men who come to Europe with attitudes like these will have to learn to think and behave differently, and when they break the law they should be punished according to the law.

But the same expectations should be placed on all men.    The outrageous thuggery of hundreds of Middle Eastern or North African men, some of whom may have been recently-arrived migrants and asylum seekers, does not signify the ‘death of multiculturalism’, except in the minds of people who never wanted a multicultural Europe in the first place.  Let’s  not allow ourselves to deluded into an us-and-them fantasy that presents sexual harassment as a uniquely Muslim, North African or Middle Eastern trait, and depicts asylum seekers as some kind of Trojan horse for ‘sex mobs’ and ‘rape gangs’ in order to fuel the hatred that is coursing through Europe right now.    

According to UNHCR 49 percent of refugees worldwide are women, many of whom have been subjected to far worse sexual violence than what was seen in Cologne.    The  knights of Cologne who are buckling on the swords to defend Europe’s women would like to exclude and deport them too.

They would, in fact, like to exclude and deport pretty much all the migrants and refugees who have come to Europe if they could,  and the Cologne ‘sex mob’ is just one more pretext and justification.

So let’s be angry at what happened on New Year’s Eve by all means.  But let’s not allow crucial issues of  sexual violence and harassment to be hijacked and instrumentalized by the likes of Robinson and Fico and so many others, who only seem to be concerned with women’s rights when they are violated by immigrants and foreigners.









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  1. Nik

    14th Jan 2016 - 12:12 pm

    It is particularly hillarious when german conservative politicians like Horst Seehofer (minister-president of Bavaria), who condemned these attacks on women in the sharpest way, were among those few maniacs who in 1997 voted _against_ a new law which made raping your spouse a criminal offense in Germany.

    So I guess for them even today the only thing wrong with what happened in Cologne is the fact that victim and groper/rapist weren’t married…

    • Nik

      14th Jan 2016 - 12:16 pm

      Here are the minutes of the debate and the vote.

    • Matt

      14th Jan 2016 - 1:54 pm

      Thanks for this Nik. Wasn’t aware of this guy, but similar things can be said about some of the other politicians who have seized on this issue.

  2. Richard Carter

    15th Jan 2016 - 1:32 pm

    Ah, now I see it! All those upstanding figures who trolled Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez and all the other women who have dared to appear in public, must have been asylum-seekers! How could the tabloids have missed this so-obvious connection?

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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