Feminsm / History / Journalism / Media / Politics / Social Media

Cologne and Colonialism

The New Year’s Eve attacks on women in Cologne not only broke loose a discussion about harassment and sexual abuse in Germany but also a new wave of racism and deep-rooted fear. Many especially right-wing politicians and commentators were head over heels, asking for harsher rules on immigration and faster deportation. While doing so they often resigned to arguments that have their roots in a belief in cultural supremacy as proclaimed in the 19th century’s colonial movement. What all these commentators ignore is a key factor for integration: It is a two sided process based on mutual respect and not one where one party dictates and the other bows in shame of its presumably lacking and anti-modernist culture.

A comment by Jessica Holzhausen

I do not even want to discuss how horrible and wrong the things were, women had to endure on New Year’s Eve in Cologne. I do not even want to talk about how strange it is that those who have once made fun of or played down the German equivalent to #EverydaySexism (#Aufschrei) now portray themselves as women’s rights activists and true feminists. Because they can. Because it fits so perfectly into their anti-refugee narrative. There have been great articles in German newspapers doing exactly that and also pointing out, what – for me – deems the greatest problem. Not that people are talking about those incidents, but the way they do. The discussion is poisoned since right-wing groups like Pegida and those ruled by fear instead of common sense have taken over social media discussions.

What strikes me most is not only the underlying racism but also quite a colonial and civilising view on people from the African continent – no matter where they come from, even though there is a tendency to judge Muslims even harsher. Not facts and figures are taken into consideration but often enough preconceptions, prejudices and stereotypes picturing Muslim men as savages with no respect for women or worse with the intention to harass and molest white European women. Something many now seem to believe proven due to the Cologne incidents. “We have to protect our women” is a strange misconception and wrong in so many ways. I do not want your protection, thank you very much, but be treated as an equal. Which you clearly not do, when pointing out, dear white man, you see it as your task to protect the “oh so vulnerable” white woman.

Even more disturbing is the picture they are painting of “THE” Muslim man – as if there was nothing like variety, individuality, different personalities and characters.

In a best case scenario the stereotype of Muslim men derives from The Arabian Nights, where somehow exotic men keep their wives – often more than one – in some kind of strangely appealing but also shocking Harem. They dress in peculiar garments and of course have a worldview so foreign to our own, they have first of all to be educated about the true values of life, the rules of civilisation. In a worst case scenario people take their education about Muslim countries from Taliban or ISIS propaganda videos: Dangerous and cruel men implementing Sharia law somewhere in remote desert towns full of dust and crumpled ruins. Sometimes I get the feeling some of those opposing refugees and migration think that people from Syria, Iraq, Egypt or Tunisia still live in the Stone Ages without running water, modern facilities or electricity. Why do they have smartphones? Because they lived an as modern life as we do, even though some aspects of their life might seem foreign or even strange to us. Make no mistake, they probably think the same of Europeans.

I dare to look back quite far into history to make a comparison: Once the Romans have judged Teutons or Celts to be inferior as well. Seen as wild tribes without civilization they were fair game to be invaded and subdued. With no respect for Celtic or Germanic culture and inheritance the Romas aspired to bring civilisation to the wildlings.

When the European colonial forces spread out into the world they had the same view on other cultures and traditions and the same feeling of superiority: Deemed inferior all those not accustomed to the European code of values were subdued, or worse: treated like animals (in which case I mean: exhibited in a zoo, for example) enslaved or killed. Europe brought civilisation not only in form of the Bible but also in form of guns. And when looking at nowadays discussions, a self-conception of European men (and women) emerge that is not far from what people believed of themselves during the 19th century. Europeans as the predominant if not race than at least culture.

Indeed many ideas from the 19th century are on the rise again: The idea of supremacy, the idea of nation and nationalism, the national state as valued and dominating structure instead of cherishing ideas of globalization, open borders and intercultural rights and achievements. The nation state is perceived as a force of order in a chaotic world with constantly changing rules.

This fixation on nation states and closed borders – my instincts tell me, this has a lot to do with insecurities and fears, the loss of status and one’s own undefined role in a global order we often do not understand. Of course often enough when discussing refugees people scream: Look at our poor! Something a majority normally has no interest in, passing by homeless people on the street without even giving them a glance. We are living in rich countries and even though there might be strains on our social systems those are not a result of refugees or migrants coming into our countries. If you do not approve: Please show me a statistic that proves otherwise. Often enough our governments have by and by cut the welfare system without regards for those in need, instead still providing tax bonuses for the upper half or spending money to support a corrupt banking system. True changes seem impossible, when risk assessment outweighs the need of those of the lowest social order: The truly vulnerable poor. But those now criticising migration often come from a well-situated middle class background. And: They also do not blame those truly responsible for their fears – their own governments or global, tax-avoiding companies for example – but lash out against the weakest in the chain. A minority without a true voice. They lash out against refugees who have just fled from the horrors of war. And that is indeed horrible. And heartless.

In a way I also blame the Internet. It has opened a bunch of new possibilities, allows us to look into the wide, wide world unfiltered. Which is great, but also terrifying. And sadly enough many people have never learned in school what reliable sources are, how to proof if something is right or wrong, what researching facts means. And so often enough wild speculations and unfiltered rumours dominate the social media discussions. How many different numbers and scales have I read about Cologne and the presumed attackers? Not much was known but already the numbers had risen from 1000 to 2000 attackers in some Facebook comments. And while those rumours spread – and are believed because a friend of a friend of an acquaintance told you so on Facebook – the traditional media seem more and more unreliable. Because they need such a long time to verify facts or only report what they can proof themselves or was confirmed by (official) sources. Because they stick to journalistic values, they are insulted as liars or state-controlled. Of course – so not one but a bunch of people will tell you – there has to be some kind of conspiracy between the elitist classes. A conspiracy to promote migration and to cover up crimes done by refugees.

Sadly enough today there is evidence that indeed refugees might have been involved in the Cologne attacks. Sadly because: “I told you so!” Now all those who have promoted hate-speech and propaganda for weeks, can finally feel they have been right all along. Of course they are no racists, or right-wing – that is what they always tell others and themselves. Criticising violent deeds is not racist, I won’t argue with that! But drawing the conclusion that because a minority of Muslim men did something horrible, all Muslim men lack respect for women, have to be educated (because they are uncivilized) and in the core are secret molesters and rapists: That is racist. It is a colonialist view on the world. And it is simply wrong!

For some time I have been tempted to replace “Muslim” or “refugee” in AfD (the new right wing party) or Pegida (the Dresden anti-Islam protesters) speeches, in Facebook posts and Tweets with the word “Jew”. Only to show how similar some people’s choice of words is to the anti-Jewish propaganda of Hitler, Goebbels and the Nazi party. Seeing it black on white will most possibly shock me to the core… But of course: Not right wing. Not racist. Only using the same termini and resorting to the same prejudices again and again. And in the same way making a true discussion about integration and mutual values nearly impossible.

Because – even if some do not want to hear it – integration is always a two-sided process. Of course I can expect that migrants and refugees stick to the laws and respect my way of life. But I have to do the same. In public the same rules have to apply for everyone. But what others do in private is – excuse me – none of your fucking business. If a woman wants to wear a hijab: Fine. Even if for you this is a sign of oppression, it is not your choice to make. As it is no-one else’s choice how short a skirt I wear or if I cross-dress or… That is how integration works: Through mutual respect. And as long as Germans and other Europeans lack any respect for different cultures and heritages, they do not have to be surprised if integration fails – again.


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