We need to challenge the social causes of sexist and racist attitudes inflamed by the refugee crisis
ON New Year’s Eve, in Cologne, hundreds of women were intimidated and threatened. At least two rapes were reported. There are now over a hundred reported assaults, often including sexual harassment and robbery at the hands of so-called “waltzers”, that is, men who molest women on pretence of wanting to dance, while accomplices rob them.
Reports of prosecutions from other cities, 53 in Hamburg, show that sexual assault was by no means only a “Cologne” phenomenon.
In the context of the arrival of over 1 million refugees in Germany in the last year, these events had an immediate political significance. Both the tabloid press, led by Bild, and right wing organisations were quick to place all the blame on “foreigners”. At first, the talk was of “North Africans” and “Muslims”, later, the stress shifted to “refugees”. This represented a dramatic shift in media coverage. Gone were the reports of refugees being welcomed by masses of volunteers all over Germany, instead there were stories of an official cover up.
Bild, for example, while not openly claiming that refugees were to blame, defiantly asserted, “One can still ask the question”. On January 6, it ran the headline, “Why were the media reports so late?” in order to immediately suggest the answer with its next question: “Was it because of a misplaced concern that the perpetrators obviously came from Arab or North African countries? Because some of them could be refugees?”
Right wing organisations like the Alliance for Germany were quick to take up the issue, asking “After the wave of crime and sexual assaults, is Germany now colourful and cosmopolitan enough, Mrs. Merkel?” The former CSU Interior Minister, Friedrich, suggested there was a “cartel of silence” and a “news blackout” that had only been “broken” thanks to Bild.
Because there were no arrests at the time, the routine police report described the evening’s celebrations as “largely peaceful”, there is virtually no official information about those responsible for the attacks but the media have headlined eye witness report of “men of North African or Arab appearance”.
The correct attitude is clear. We should be unequivocally for the defence of women against sexist harassment while opposing attempts by racists to demonise all migrants. Combined actions by women, Germans and migrants along this approach demonstrate the way to respond.
To explain reactionary behaviour is not to excuse it. Nor does it mean that we do not oppose reactionary attitudes and sexist abuse amongst migrants as decisively as in society generally. Like everybody else, their consciousness is marked by the social conditions in which they live and this consciousness will only be changed through an active, anti-racist and anti-sexist working class policy, which not only combats reactionary ideas but, above all, the relationships that produce them.
As internationalists and anti-racists, we have never based our solidarity with the refugees on the idea that they are “better” people but, above all, on the fact that they are victims of the capitalist system. German imperialism, its ruling class and its government, help to maintain that system and profit from it. BY SUSANNE KÜHN