When the rights of women and a warm reception for migrants come into conflict, it’s understandable if the left panics – but we have to salvage nuance
Saturday 9 January 2016
Oh dear. It’s leftageddon. Two matters close to the progressive heart have been pitted against each other. In one corner, the right of women to stroll down the street, wearing what we like to wear without being mistaken for a walking, gilt-edged invitation to cop a free feel. In the other, the right of men, women and children to flee war, oppression and privation to seek refuge in other countries, without being seen as a swarm of subhuman parasites who will destroy any naive host who welcomes them. Tricky.
News of events in Cologne on New Year’s Eve filtered out slowly, but it has become glaringly obvious that during celebrations in that city – and, to a lesser extent, other German cities – many women were targeted by gangs of men who surrounded them and subjected them to sexual assaults. The women, and witnesses, say that their attackers seemed to be from the Middle East or north Africa. Critics of Germany’s open-door refugee policy say they warned us. Nightmare.
Short of going full conspiracy-theory, and suggesting a) that rightwing German men have slapped on the fake tan in a fiendish effort to engineer a revolt against German immigration policy; or b) that rightwing German men have slapped on the fake tan and dresses, then made it all up, to the same end, there appear to be few uncomplicated ways to blame the right for all this.
I’m not counting the argument that says there is no hard evidence that these were refugees, because – let’s face it – it’s silly to pretend that the word “refugee” is synonymous with the word “saint” anyway.
Only a simpleton – or, more commonly, person driven by instinct and emotion – thinks you can counter the uncompromising prejudice of “all immigrants are bad” with the uncompromising prejudice of “all immigrants are good”. The debate is worth having because the story has presented itself to us, whether the story is true or not. It will keep on presenting itself, in some form or another, until we can achieve some measure of agreement over what the story means.
The stereotypical right tends to blame the stereotypical left for all its woes in an uncomplicated way. The stereotypical left tends to respond with similar clod-hopping generalisation. But the hopeful columnist can still believe it possible to salvage some nuance; perhaps even, heaven forfend, some useful and solid points on which both left and right can agree.
First, these were opportunistic, organised crimes. The fact that they were carried out in the open, in front of many witnesses, suggests that the perpetrators were pretty sure they would get away with it. Sexual criminals who get away with things tend to become more ambitious. There’s no denying that this is a serious problem.