Monday, January 11, 2016

Oh no de Cologne

Photo by Bernd Rosenbaum.Kölnische Rundschau.
Merkel muß raus! Yep, Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, is demanding the resignation of the German chancellor:
Angela Merkel must go — so that her country, and the continent it bestrides, can avoid paying too high a price for her high-minded folly.
Does that count as a diplomatic incident?

What it's about, of course, is the awful fracas of Silvesterabend in Cologne and some other German cities:
ON New Year’s Eve, in the shadow of Cologne’s cathedral, crowds of North African and Middle Eastern men accosted women out for the night’s festivities. They surrounded them, groped them, robbed them. Two women were reportedly raped.

Though there were similar incidents from Hamburg to Helsinki, the authorities at first played down the assaults, lest they prove inconvenient for Angela Merkel’s policy of mass asylum for refugees.
Thus the Monsignor aligns himself with what Die Welt memorably calls "ein Shitstorm" of demands for Merkel to step down—
Auf Twitter tobt ein Shitstorm gegen Kanzlerin Angela Merkel (CDU): Unter dem Hashtag #abmerkeln entlädt sich der Frust über die Flüchtlingspolitik der Bundesregierung. [A shit storm is raging on Twitter against Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU): People venting their frustration with the federal government's refugee policy under the hashtag #abmerkeln.] [#abmerkeln looks like a new verb that might be translated "to downmerkel".]
—and with the organization Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident/Patriotische Europäer Gegen die Islamisation Des Abendlandes) of which 1700 members came out yesterday to demonstrate in Cologne, showing how civilized they were in comparison to Muslims by chanting "Merkel muß weg",
setting off fireworks and launching bottles, metal barricades, rocks and even flower pots at police, the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger reported (Independent)
and injuring three police officers and a journalist while a counter-demonstration of about 1300 behaved more decorously as they
waved signs saying “against racism, against sexism”, “no to fascism” and “never again”, referring to the Nazis.
(Update: Overnight Sunday, violent attacks on foreigners took place in Cologne's inner city, injuring six Pakistanis, two Syrians, and three people from Papua New Guinea. Police arrested four rightwing extremists in connection with the crimes.)

It is not at all clear what happened on New Year's Eve (the feast of Saint Sylvester) in Cologne (not to mention the other places), partly because of the initial stonewalling of the police chief, Wolfgang Albers, who seemed not to have known in the morning that anything had even gone wrong, and who has been appropriately fired (I'm working here with two very thorough reports from Die Zeit, from January 5 and January 7).

That is, it's clear that there was a good deal of very bad violence in and around the square between the central train station and the city's famous cathedral, including pickpocketing and robberies, assaults, sexual touching and groping and grabbing of women, and probably two rapes, but it's not quite clear who did it, or what, if anything, it had to do with the government's policy of welcoming refugees from the horrors of the Syrian civil war.

By January 5 the police had compiled reports of a total of 516 incidents, about 40% of them of a sexual nature, and collected information on a total of 51 suspects, 22 of whom were asylum applicants, but not on suspicion of sexual crimes, only theft. But they had arrested only three men, a 19-year-old Moroccan cell phone thief of whom they had known since early 2013 and two other North Africans.

Were the perpetrators refugees offered residence in the country as part of the government's effort to help out with the Syrian horror? The first reports to identify perpetrators by ethnicity called them "mainly North Africans or Arabs, as the case may be, Syrians too" (Nordafrikaner beziehungsweise Araber, auch Syrer), and a number of those called in for questioning were Syrian. Calling them North Africans suggested a commonplace kind of street criminal, typically Moroccan and Algerian gangster "Antänzer" ("on-dancers" or hugger-muggers in proper English, who grab or grope a person in a sexual way as a distraction from picking their pockets), people who are not refugees of any sort but well established in Europe (France, I think, more than Germany), but the crimes committed against women (not in the square, but in streets behind the station, and in some cases inside the station, where it was too dark, the victims said, to identify the attackers), seemed worse than that.

And the role of Syrians seemed to get larger in the newspapers as the week went on. A large number of the stolen items were cell phones, and police were able to localize these and retrieve the loot, and at least some of these (according to Der Spiegel) were found in refugees' (Syrians') residences. A leaked internal police report claimed that there had been a thousand men on the square before midnight, many of them horribly drunk and unbelievably disrespectful ("something I haven't seen in 29 years of service," said one cop), shooting off firecrackers and putting people, in particular police officers, in danger, and there were also reports as early as 10:45 of beatings, thefts, and molestation, not after midnight as the original reports had claimed, and that there were quite a lot of Syrians involved, saying things like, "I'm a Syrian and you have to be nice to me; Frau Merkel invited me," or ripping up their residence permits with the taunt, "You can't do anything to me, I'll get another one tomorrow." That's the point actually where I start to get a little skeptical. And then I'm really skeptical about the next bit, from Die Welt, the Hamburg equivalent of the New York Post, according to which the perpetrators were "mostly Syrian". 

There's a context to that that would be more familiar to readers of the Post: the stories reported to Die Welt by anonymous cops came out in direct response to some rather harsh criticism of the Cologne police from interior minister Thomas de Maizière over their handling of the situation, and they were followed up by an anti-Maizière diatribe from the head of the state's police union, Arnold Plickert. The role of Syrians in the disturbance kept growing with each retelling, and the reason is pretty obvious: the police had done a crappy job, obviously, allowing the situation to get very seriously out of control, and they were now trying to turn the blame around, against the federal government and its compassionate refugee policy, as if people from Syria simply by virtue of where they came from presented some insuperable new threat quite different from that posed by Moroccans or Algerians or Germans or any of the other people in the crowd, which is bullshit. of a piece with the initial cluelessness and/or deceptions of the now fired chief.

But Douthat isn't interested in what really happened; he's interested in his agenda. He's given up on the original hope of stopping Syrian refugees in Europe by accusing them of being terrorists (here, for instance) and moved on to trying to stop them with allegations that they're savages, which may or may not stick in the long run: bad manners and bad morals, at least some of them, apparently, drinking themselves blind and assaulting helpless women (as German feminists have been pointing out, there are plenty of ethnic-German dudes who do that; and the 20 to 100 Syrians that may have been involved in these attacks are a pretty small part of the million Syrian refugees who have been taken in). That's not why you help people, though, because they're morally irreproachable. You help them because they need help.

Douthat's mainly interested in jumping on the bandwagon to denounce the refugees, by any means necessary, and if that means taking sides with neo-Nazis* and against the Pope, so be it. Really, for all his upper-class tongue-clicking prissiness, he's no different from Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly.

Incidentally, the federal government's handling of the refugee crisis did have a real role in the Cologne disturbances, but its mistake was on the conservative side:
Yet 100 officers who ought to have been available for such incidents were missing, the acting chairman of the [federal] German Police Union (DPolG), Ernst G. Walter, told the Tagesspiegel: "The police were missing a lot of officers that night, because they're stationed at the moment in Bavaria." Two thousand policemen from all over Germany are stationed there for border security.
There should have been over 300 officers on the scene, it turns out, but there were just 220, because almost of third of them were down south controlling the border to keep unwanted immigrants out.

*And rightwing troll pornographers like Michel Houellebecq; like so many other conservatives he doesn't realize that Houellebecq's recent Soumission is a cranky joke, not a prophecy, and uses it to legitimize yahoo terror of a Sharia takeover:
The still-imaginary France Michel Houellebecq conjured up in his novel “Submission,” in which nativists and Islamists brawl in the streets, would have a very good chance of being realized in the German future.
It gives me inexpressible joy to think of the chaste-minded Monsignor plugging an author who began one novel with the funeral of the narrator's father:
As I stood before the old man’s coffin, unpleasant thoughts came to me. He had made the most of life, the old bastard; he was a clever cunt. ‘You had kids, you fucker . . .’ I said spiritedly, ‘you shoved your fat cock in my mother’s cunt.’ Well, I was a bit tense, I have to admit; it’s not every day you have a death in the family. (LRB review linked above)

By the way, and just because I liked it so much I wanted to translate it, a lovely anecdote from Christoph Herwartz in a still more recent issue of Die Zeit, on an interview with a local merchant:
Somehody who claims to know the perpetrators' scene stands between the cigarettes and magazines in his kiosk a bit north of the Hauptbahnhof. "They've always been putting up their shit here," he says, "they" meaning Tunisians, Algerians. On New Year's Eve a man came by, a Moroccan, and showed him three stolen cell phones. The police had picked him up inside the train station, the Moroccan said, and then let him go again.
The kiosk owner stops a moment to help a customer charge her phone. He knows her by name. Then he goes on to say, "They put up shit at home, and they made themselves problems. Now they come here and put up more shit. For a long time." A couple of deportations, he thinks, and the problem would go away. [Then the kicker:] The kiosk owner tells where he comes from himself: he's a Yazidi, from northern Iraq, escaped 25 years ago. He spent years of his life in fear of deportation.
Update: This Voxsplainer by Zack Beauchamp is pretty good at representing a somewhat open viewpoint, though it sadly spells Spiegel wrong ("Speigel"), and though it's not fully conscious of what it's doing right (reporting that what white Cologne residents are really anxious about are those North African Antänzer who have been terrorizing the local population for quite a while, 11,000 robberies in the past three years, not Syrian refugees, but not really noticing how that tends to make the refugee question irrelevant).

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