Monday, January 11, 2016

Monday Forum - the battle for Europe's soul

Today's Monday Forum is a meander. I leave it in your hands to decide which direction to go, including revisiting issues from past Monday Forums.

Last Thursday, eldest left the warmth of Sydney for Copenhagen, returning to this weather!  While in Copenhagen last year, I asked what cyclists did in winter? The answer was ride! Apparently, it's quicker than public transport. Mmmm. I might trade warmth for speed in this case.

In Saturday Morning Musings - the 2016 global outlook  (2 January 2016) I said in part:
Doubts about the future of the EU has been a common theme in the reporting and commentary on the various European crises of 2015, with sometimes gleeful predictions of a break-up of the EU. I would be very surprised if that happened. As I have explained in previous posts, the model that I have used to understand some EU dynamics is the Federal model for the EU is an evolving Federation; the term Union is a misnomer. Applying this model, I expect Europe to muddle through through with some strengthening of central power. 

At the time I was writing, news of the New Year events in Cologne was just breaking. Now the number of alleged cases has topped 500, fueling anti-immigration protests in Germany.The photo is from the linked BBC news story.

The events in Cologne are unacceptable. If it were to happen in Sydney or Melbourne on New Year's Eve, there would be a massive political explosion. However, the tone of the protests makes me very uncomfortable indeed.

Growing up, I knew of the mass forced people movements at the end of World War II, I was less aware of people movements within Europe during the War associated with the desire to create Lebensraum or living space for the German people. Yes, I knew the phrase, but not the full implications.

I was reminded of all this while watching a document series "Invasion outbreak of World War 2" which focuses on Poland. Let me just give you a simple number. Following the German/Soviet Union agreement to partition Poland and the German invasion, large sections of Poland were incorporated into Germany. Around 1.5 million Poles were forcibly relocated to the so-called General Government territory so that their homes could be occupied by German settlers. Following the war, the process went into reverse, as millions of ethic Germans were relocated including those who had called Poland home many, many generations. This was ethnic cleansing on a large scale, a process that we had seen earlier with the mass forced relocations in Greece and Turkey at the end of the First World War and would see later on a smaller scale in the Balkans.

The European experiment was meant to overcome this bitter past, but the past hangs on. In Poland, for example, the Law and Justice Party still reflects old battles.You can find similar patterns in other countries. I remain of the view that Europe will muddle through 2016, ending with some strengthening of central powers. It is less clear what will happen to Europe's soul.

Perhaps I'm wrong. What do you think?


More information is emerging about the Cologne incident. According to BBC News reports, North Rhine-Westphalia state's interior minister Ralf Jaeger has criticised
" police for not calling for reinforcements on the night, and also for the way they informed the public about the investigation in the days after the events. 
His report details how a group of around 1,000 men of North African and Arabic origin gathered on 31 December. Smaller groups formed, surrounding women, then threatening and attacking them, he said. 
These groups were predominately made up of North African men who had travelled to Cologne from different cities. 
"After the intoxication with drugs and alcohol came violence," said Mr Jaeger. "It culminated in the acting out of fantasies of sexual omnipotence. That must be severely punished."
Certain things in the emerging information make me quite uncomfortable. Just to summarise the reasons for my discomfort.

There are a number of different issues involved that to some degree are being conflated in reporting.

To suggest, as some European leaders appear to have, that women should avoid certain times or certain areas for safety reasons creates discomfort.

Leaving gender issues aside, it has always been the case that wisdom sometimes dictates caution. To use a Sydney example, I used to stay in Kings Cross when visiting Sydney because I loved the ambiance of the area including its restaurants. However, I did exercise some care, especially late at night because there were some risks to physical safety. In similar vein, there were some areas in Sydney near Newtown where walking alone at night could pose significant risks as one friend found when he was king-hit and robbed..

All that said, the idea that that women should be told to avoid areas or behaviour in Europeans cities for risk of sexual attack is discomforting. This is certainly so if applied to Cologne's main railway station on New Year's Eve.

Equally discomforting is the idea of an alcohol or drug fueled male sex mob. I had not heard of taharrush gameĆ¢, an Arabic word apparently meaning group sexual harassment in crowds, although I do remember the incidents in Cairo's Tahrir Square at the time of the Egyptian revolution. To the degree that this pathology exists, it needs to be dealt with and firmly.

Perspective is important, however. Even at a thousand, the numbers involved in Cologne were not large. There was clearly a significant policing failure. This brings me to my next area of discomfort.

Official reporting on this incident and apparently others in Europe appears to involve a degree of self-censorship, an unwillingness to record ethnicity or the culture of sub-groups even where this is directly connected with the incident in question. Again, we have seen this in Australia.

The reason for this appears to be partly a matter of political correctness, more a fear of exacerbating tension.

To my mind, it's a silly approach. Details of an incident and public responses to an incident are two very separate things and need to be dealt with separately. People generally know who is involved. If police or official media outlets don't report or massage their reports by concealing information, then it just provides ammunition to those who wish to use the incidents for their own purposes and just fuels the fears of those already frightened or angry. It's generally best to report accurately and fully, dealing with the consequences as a second issue.

Postscript 2

In comments, Ramana pointed me to this Huffington Post story (Mass Sexual Assaults in Germany and the Liberal Dilemma) which he agreed with. I also agree. Regardless of your position, there is always a dilemma in saying things that might provide ammunition to those who disagree with you on other matters that you consider to be important. He also pointed to this story on taharrush

kvd referenced this story as interesting but without comment on the content: The West is losing the battle for the heart of Europe.


Rummuser said...

What I think is exactly what Raza Habib Raja thinks.

Rummuser said...

After I had submitted the above comment, I came across this news item which explains the phenomenon more explicitly than other sources have hitherto.

Anonymous said...

Without comment, I would submit the following link as worth some thought:


Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks both. I have added the links in the post if with limited comment at this point. I wanted to see if we drew any more discussion.