The Corner

National Security & Defense

What Happened in Cologne – and Hamburg?

The New York Times:

BERLIN — German authorities said on Tuesday that coordinated attacks in which young women were sexually harassed and robbed by hundreds of young men on New Year’s Eve in the western city of Cologne were unprecedented in scale and nature. The assault, which went largely unreported for days, set off a national outcry after the Cologne police described the attackers as young men “who appeared to have a North African or Arabic” background, based on testimony from victims and witnesses. More than 90 people have filed legal complaints, the police said on Tuesday.

The police in Hamburg also said that 10 women had reported being sexually assaulted and robbed in a similar fashion on the same night, and they urged witnesses to come forward.

Germany took in more than one million migrants last year, and with the country struggling to deal with the political, social and wider consequences of the influx, the delayed public response has led to concerns that the authorities were playing down the seriousness of the assault to prevent it from becoming a point of contention in the broader debate. The assault took place late on Thursday on the vast public square in front of the city’s main train station, a central transit point for anyone coming or going from a fireworks display over the Rhine and the bars and nightclubs in the heart of the city, in the shadow of its landmark cathedral.

Heiko Maas, Germany’s justice minister, warned on Tuesday against linking the assaults to the influx of refugees, saying that the ethnicity of the perpetrators was irrelevant.

“The rule of the law does not look at where someone comes from but what they did,” Mr. Maas [a Social Democrat] told reporters in Berlin. “We will investigate what circles the perpetrators may have come from.”

Maas’ response is the right one, if he means  it.

The Local:

[T]he police have also insisted that many of the men had been known to them for some time and that they were not a group of newly-arrived refugees.

The suggestion that the authorities may have played down the attacks is potentially dangerous for Germany’s political establishment, even more so if this is seen, correctly or otherwise, as part of a wider policy of downplaying the difficulties that may flow from Merkel’s “wilkommen politik”.  If we look north to Sweden, where the left-of-center government is finally taking some steps to reverse the ruinously naïve immigration policies of its center-right predecessors, the (largely correct) perception that opposing views could not be freely discussed played a  major part in the rise of the populist Sweden Democrats, a party with origins (and not so long ago) in the darker corners of the far ‘right’.

Back to The Local

Writing for the Huffington Post Deutschland, Anabel Schunke accused the police of covering up details about the suspected criminals in order to protect public order. Questioning why no details were given on the appearance of the suspects when police called for witnesses, despite plentiful CCTV footage, Schunke suggested that police chose to leave important details out so that the public would not make a connection between the crime and refugees.

In its details, the case is reminiscent of the mass sexual assaults which took place in north Africa during the huge Arab Spring protests of 2011-2013, Schunke points out, writing of her concern that so many people are moving to Germany from “patriarchal, Muslim societies.”

Questioning why no details were given on the appearance of the suspects when police called for witnesses, despite plentiful CCTV footage, Schunke suggested that police chose to leave important details out so that the public would not make a connection between the crime and refugees.

In its details, the case is reminiscent of the mass sexual assaults which took place in north Africa during the huge Arab Spring protests of 2011-2013, Schunke points out, writing of her concern that so many people are moving to Germany from “patriarchal, Muslim societies.”

Reuters notes this:

The right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD), which has gained in polls in part at Merkel’s expense thanks to a campaign against refugees, said she should close the border.

“Mrs Merkel, is Germany ‘colorful and cosmopolitan’ enough for you after the wave of crimes and sexual attacks?” tweeted AfD chief Frauke Petry

The AfD (about which I have blogged quite a few times in this Corner) began life as a classically liberal (sort of) party primarily defined by its opposition to the euro. After a split, it has moved in a more conventionally populist direction. Immigration has now become the party’s major focus: And it has only benefited from Merkel’s historic blunder.

We’ll have to see what happens next. Meanwhile, Reuters  reports that “there are almost daily attacks on refugee shelters”.

Kohl united Germany. Will Merkel’s legacy be to have divided it? 

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