Sexual assaults in Cologne exploited by the racist establishment and far right
Sue Powell* and Sozialistische Alternative reporters, Germany
The shocking attacks on scores of women in Cologne, where up to 1,000 North African or ‘Arab-looking’ men were said to be on the rampage, brought the inevitable baying from the far right and a backlash from the establishment media and politicians. As so often happens, where political capital can be made, the victims have become almost secondary.
These terrifying attacks should not be dismissed: Cologne police took statements on assaults from over 500 women – many of whom were subjected to terrifying sexual attacks. But the ensuing media outcry and political debate has not been about this sexist violence.
It is unlikely that the real truth will prevail, which is why Sozialistische Alternative (SAV – CWI, Germany) is demanding an independent inquiry.
Ultra-right groups and violent racists have attempted to seize the initiative, exploiting popular fears. Last Sunday (10 January) far-right gangs in Cologne attacked foreigners, including Pakistanis, Syrians and a group of Africans. Police arrested hundreds of far-right thugs rampaging through Leipzig.
An anti-asylum seeker demo in Cologne called by the xenophobic Pegida movement attracted around 1,500 people, mostly neo-Nazi hooligans. A counter-demo organised by the Left mobilised 4,000 people. Many racist arson attacks on asylum seekers’ hostels are going unreported in the media.
Right-wing nationalists like the Alternative for Germany party (AfD, who currently are around 10% in opinion polls) and Pegida, who organised some alarmingly big racist marches in 2015, quickly blamed Chancellor Merkel’s apparently ‘soft’ approach to the refugee crisis and almost gleefully claimed vindication of their opposition to the borders being opened (albeit temporarily) last summer.
Criticism also came from Merkel’s own Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party: “Urgently needed: reduction of influx, secure borders, intensifying of deportations and meaningful justice,” tweeted one CDU MP.
Before a single culprit was identified there was talk of the “clash of cultures”, a “wholly macho culture” and “people living in the Middle Ages” and the finger pointed at the Muslim refugees who arrived over the last five months.
There are many reasons to feel this is unlikely: the attackers were said to be drunk, threw firecrackers (a widespread German tradition) and they knew the best areas to target. All of this displays a good degree of ‘assimilation’ into western ‘culture’.
According to observers it was an apparently coordinated attack. It would not be unusual for gangs of pickpockets to target big gatherings, but the figure of 1,000 attackers has been refuted.
A more likely figure is under 200, possibly many from North Africa, not refugees from Syria or Iraq.
In fact, once infringement of residency and asylum laws are eliminated (which might include visiting a family member in a different area), non-German residents are generally less likely to commit crime than Germans. So it is inexcusable that a Green Party mayor Boris Palmer should again be calling for tougher asylum laws, arguing that “petty criminals going through the refugee process feel there’s practically nothing to fear from German law”.
He, like the Minister for Home Affairs Thomas de Maizière (CDU), has raised the possibility of deportations – including changing the law to allow repatriation to countries where the life of the refugee is at risk.
Thus the terror experienced by young women wanting to see in the New Year with their friends is being cynically used to fuel the increasing tensions over refugees.
The police have been criticised for their abject failure to stop the attacks or arrest assailants. The city’s police chief was forced into early retirement over his handling of the assaults. One spokesperson admitted “perhaps they downplayed reports of a slap on the bum”!
Cologne mayor Reker has announced security would be stepped up for the “crazy days” of next month’s carnival, but she played into the hands of the racists by adding: “We will also have to explain our carnival better to people from other cultures”.
But visitors to the Rhineland carnivals or the Munich October beer festival will know that drunken loutish behaviour is not uncommon. There were over 2,000 police interventions reported at the last beer festival and one multiple rape.
Countless young women have been sexually harassed at festivals, discos and places frequented by drunken young men. Often the ‘law and order brigade’ are the first to blame rape victims for being drunk and ‘provocative’.
In this case the race supremacists are hypocritically denigrating the victims again as “our women violated” by Arabs. Women should be able to feel safe in public spaces. Racism and sexism are twin evils – and we need to fight both of them.
Before the Cologne violence the migration issue was already causing tension, with a rise in racist attacks and marches. Now it has spiralled to another level, furthering polarisation and escalating violence.
The left, particularly Die Linke (the Left party), has to act to explain what happened in Cologne and bring together the women’s movement, anti-racist movement and trade unions to explain and educate on the questions of sexism and racism. This must be in conjunction with organising against racist violence and building a movement to cut across a rise in right-wing nationalism.
* Sue, a Socialist Party member in Gloucestershire, worked with refugees in Germany and was a Sozialistische Alternative member for over 20 years
The Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) is the socialist international organisation to which the Socialist Party is affiliated.
The CWI is organised in 45 countries and works to unite the working class and oppressed peoples against global capitalism and to fight for a socialist world.