I am a liberal philosopher. However, I am also aware of when fellow liberals can be paralysed by not wishing to upset people, particularly minorities or the oppressed, even when said groups might have certain issues that need dealing with.
Recently, huge numbers sexual assaults and perpetrators have hit the news concerning New Year’s celebrations in Cologne (Koln) in Germany. I have seen the bigoted right-wing use this to demonise refugees with a broad brush. I have also seen liberals dither and be pretty irrational. One must be very careful in how one navigates such waters. This article in The Daily Beast, written by a liberal Muslim, hits a home run.
If liberals do not address such issues swiftly, with complete candor and courage, the far-right and anti-Muslim populist groups will get there first. They have been doing so for a while now.
Which is precisely what I have already seen. The melting pot which is a Europe in flux is ripe grounds for social cohesion issues.
Eventually, this was bound to happen. Recent mass migration patterns across Europe have meant that misogyny has finally come head to head with anti-racism, multiculturalism is facing off against feminism, and progressive values are wrestling with cultural tolerance.
The article brings up many interesting points:
Let’s start by looking at the evidence. Official figures in Germany suggest that, currently, refugees are no more likely to commit sexual crimes than other sections of the population. “Refugees commit just as few or as many crimes as groups of the local population,” says Germany’s interior minister, Thomas de Maiziere. That’s good news. Bank it.
Street sexual violence is also—obviously—not exclusive to Arab and Muslim-majority countries. Indeed, among the worst offenders is Papua New Guinea, where two-thirds of women are subjected to some kind of physical or sexual violence, and rapists from “raskol” gangs are happy to pose for photos after their latest rape.
Having said that, what is infuriating and totally counterproductive is to deny that a specifically cultural problem around immigration patterns and European sexual norms has been steadily rising across the continent. To pretend this is not the case only further stigmatizes us brown Muslim men. That the problem requires attention is clear.
As ever, looking at the data is very important for rational policy making.
This is all controversial, but it must be said. Anecdotal attitudes point to the same conclusion. Abdu Osman Kelifa, an Eritrean asylum seeker to Norway, recently told The New York Times that in his home country, “if someone wants a lady, he can just take her and he will not be punished.” He confessed that it was still hard for him to accept that a woman could accuse her husband of rape.
Between denying the problem and using it to fuel bigoted far-right rhetoric, an approach grounded in data and a level head is vital. Any solution to this emerging issue must simultaneously seek to deny the far right the ammunition it desires while preserving—not reneging on—Europe’s hard earned progressive social values.
The nub of it is recognising where ther are issues, and not being blinding by psychological liberal biases that we may have, but solving these issues in liberal yet robust ways. As the article suggests, it is not about how we change our behaviour, as progressives, but about how we best achieve successful integration (by not giving things up and compromising our side).
Norway has led the way here, offering voluntary nationwide classes that expand upon Norwegian social and sexual norms to newly arrived migrant men. The German border town of Passau in Bavaria, has already started a similar program for male refugees, while Danish politicians aim to approve the same measure after a string of attacks in Denmark. Among other measures, it is my view that such classes should be mandatory for new arrivals across the continent. These classes should form part of a citizenship, integration, and employment course, before residency permits are provided. In any case, they would help refugees come to grips with the strange new world they have just fled to, and can only make their job prospects better.
One thing is for certain, careful thought and not kneejerk reaction, from either side, is what is called for. Difficult problems require clever thinking.