I’m not done with the Cologne thing, not by a long stretch.
Cities are great concentrations of opportunity, which is why people gravitate towards them. This includes people for whom opportunity means access to victims. Thieves, pimps, drug dealers and swindlers of every stripe are to be found in cities. Some cities are plagued by them, in others you barely know they’re there. Either way, our parents teach us to be streetwise and we pretty soon learn which parts of our cities to avoid, if we are not to end up as someone else’s opportunity. We understand the unwritten rules of our cities and when we break those rules, we do so either by accident or by taking a calculated risk. This reality applies to all inhabitants of a city.
It applies more so to women than to men, more so to children than to adults, more so to strangers than to locals, more so to the disabled than to the able-bodied. We acknowledge this through our efforts at removing these discrepancies. For the past quarter-century, especially in Western cities, words such as safety, accessibility, inclusion, liveability, enjoyment, fulfilment, etc., have been prominent in urban policies. University courses in urban design, urban planning and urban management teach the professional how to minimise danger, hazard and unpleasantness in our cities. Parks offer safe disposal of dog foul, used condoms and hypodermic needles, streets and squares are equipped with good lighting and surveillance, surfaces are made less hazardous for everyone, and signage more universally intelligible. In short, we’ve come a long way towards our cities being there for all its inhabitants to safely enjoy, as they are entitled.
Enter large numbers of people intent on wrecking that entitlement. There is the passive wrecking of women confined to their homes and hence never partaking of the city, and communities that isolate themselves from the wider urban life. Then there is the active wrecking of expecting gender segregation in public places, of disrupting the normal use of public footways by spreading out prayer mats and indulging in ostentatious displays of piety, of gangs of vigilante thugs harassing whomever displays a morality they disapprove of, and lately, of course, the significant ratcheting up of this aggressive wrecking by the orchestrated targeting of women for sexual assault.
When it is announced that a serial killer is on the loose, there’s been a jail break or a riot has broken out, it comes as a shock and the city can suddenly become a very threatening place. When the threat targets people meeting a particular description, it is worse because the targets do not know the extent of support they might receive from the wider population. This could range from their being blamed, or being advised to modify their behaviour, to the perpetrators being called out, isolated and confronted, the victims protected and empowered, and the general social awareness being raised. Whichever way, people are galvanised into action.
When the threat takes the form of a creeping malaise, later concerted responses may be systematically undermined by an accumulation of reasonable accommodations: quietly walking around the man prostrating himself and blocking the footpath; acceding to gender segregation at meetings; acceding to separate legal systems; acceding to gender-segregated sports facilities; avoiding more areas of our cities than we normally would; allowing people to enter shops, banks and public buildings in full facial disguise, etc. By the time of the co-ordinated sexual assaults in several European cities last New Year’s Eve, what should have been a galvanised public response had been muted, and what should have been a concerted response from the authorities had been paralysed.
The obviously-recognisable groups of North African and Middle Eastern men who perpetrated these acts were repeating the obviously-recognisable modus operandi seen previously in Tunis and Cairo, cities to which, for centuries, women had no entitlement, given that they are cities in the Muslim world in which Muslim norms and practices had held sway. As is also obvious from these two cities (and Tehran, and Riyadh, and other places), there is a growing social awareness of the basic injustice of Muslim attitudes to public space, and an increasing confidence in women claiming their entitlement to their cities. The mediaeval men who would have it otherwise are fighting back in their home cities with orchestrated mass sexual assaults acting on a value system that shames the victims of such assaults, rather than the perpetrators. With that value system as a baseline, add to it the general Muslim perception of Western, especially white, women as morally degenerate, plus the party atmosphere of New Year’s Eve, and taharrush comes to Europe.
It cannot be discounted that the co-ordinated mass sexual assaults on women in so many cities on one night is the work of one or more of the jihadist movements. More doubtful, though, is that participation in it was all religiously-inspired. Given the mediaeval gender relations expectations of these men and their profound lack of inter-gender experience, Western conditions of gender equality and female freedom constitute a never-ending sexual provocation. Yes, it was about a wider effort to drive women out of public spaces, but it was also an irresistible opportunity to get some white pussy. There is the wider battle of defending our rights and freedoms against a concerted onslaught that this time round started with the Muslim Brotherhood, but there is also the giving effect to those rights and freedoms, such as the enjoyment of our cities by all its inhabitants, that has been under steady assault. It requires a response at both levels.