Friday 30 September 2016

Denigrating all refugees as 'rapefugees' is designed to stoke fear and prejudice

Published 12/01/2016 | 02:30

AA German protester with a sticker reading 'an arm’s-length distance', referring to the mayor of Cologne’s suggestion on how to
prevent being assaulted by men. Photo: AFP/Getty
AA German protester with a sticker reading 'an arm’s-length distance', referring to the mayor of Cologne’s suggestion on how to prevent being assaulted by men. Photo: AFP/Getty

The mass sexual assaults committed in Cologne on New Year's Eve were extremely shocking, but let's not pretend violence against women is a new phenomenon in the West.

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Feminists, when they discuss rape culture in Western countries, are invariably accused of unfairly implying that all men are Neanderthal misogynists by a particularly belligerent cohort of meninists, whose relentless mantra is "not all men".

They say that, while there may be an issue with the behaviour of some men in society, feminists, by discussing structural sexism in a generalised way, unfairly apportion guilt solely on the basis of one's gender.

This pithy riposte conveniently facilitates the redirection of any discussion away from the subject of gender-based violence or discrimination and towards meninists' favourite subject - a debate about how feminists are men-hating harridans who presume every man is a closet rapist or misogynist.

So, imagine my surprise during the week when the "not all men" brigade, reacting to the grotesque events in Cologne, added an addendum to their message - "not all Western men, but all Muslim men".

Evidently, it now seems that while it is unjust to generalise when it comes to the endemic sexual harassment that women in the West face daily, it is perfectly fine to assign collective guilt to Muslim refugees, fleeing war and persecution, for the gross attacks in Cologne.

One wonders where these staunch defenders of women's rights were last year when a poll revealed that 100pc of French women surveyed had been the victim of some kind of sexual harassment on public transport around Paris - with harassment ranging from intimidating behaviour to sex attacks or rape.

"Women must be able to move about and occupy the public space without being placed in danger or threatened. It's a fundamental freedom.

"Attackers have the impression they can act with total impunity, notably by making use of a crowd to hide and flee," said Ernestine Ronai, a member of the French High Council for Gender Equality, at the time.

Similarly, last year in the UK, the numbers of recorded sexual offences on trains and at stations skyrocketed 25pc to record levels, with police stating that a public campaign to encourage the reporting of such incidents had led to the unprecedented increase in cases.

Previously, many women had simply assumed this kind of harassment was something they just had to put up with.

Like those men who take advantage of rush-hour crowds to assault women on public transport in European cities, the attackers in Cologne used similarly odious tactics to threaten, sexually assault and rob women with apparent impunity.

The difference between the Cologne attacks and what women routinely endure in other Western cities was their scale and concentration - with 516 complaints now having been lodged by women with police.

Of course, the other difference is the ethnic background of the perpetrators of the attacks, with the police investigation in Germany largely focused on asylum seekers and illegal immigrants from North Africa.

To date, of the 31 suspects identified by police, nine are Algerian, eight are Moroccan, four are Syrian, five are Iranian and two are German, while an Iraqi, a Serb and an American have also been detained for questioning.

Clearly, in the context of more than one million asylum seekers having been welcomed to Germany in the past 12 months, questions must now be asked about whether these people are being successfully integrated into their host country.

However, denigrating everyone who has fled war and persecution and made the arduous and dangerous journey to Europe as "rapefugees" - as some zealots on the right are now doing - is just naked bigotry designed to stoke fear and prejudice. While those on the right pounce on the background of the perpetrators as evidence that refugees should be feared and not pitied, those on the left are also guilty of manipulating aspects of the story to suit their own ideological agenda.

Instead of seeking to downplay the fact that this mob attack was instigated by people of Middle Eastern and North African descent, the left needs to acknowledge people's real fears that a mass influx of refugees could have destabilising social and cultural effects in their host countries.

The answer to these fears is not to erect borders across Europe and deny genuine asylum seekers refuge, but to have a co-ordinated and uniform asylum policy across the continent, where no one country is forced to assume a disproportionate burden and where comprehensive screening and background checks are conducted as quickly as possibly.

Additionally, more needs to be done to ensure that people arriving in Europe are integrated into their host countries, with access to language classes and job opportunities so they can become productive members of society instead of a strain on public services.

While Renua leader Lucinda Creighton has called for screening of refugees in the wake of the Cologne attacks, she should know that the 4,000 Syrian refugees coming to Ireland under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme will be extensively screened. For example, those arriving under resettlement programmes will first be vetted by the UNHCR and the Office for the Promotion of Migrant Integration (OPMI) before applicants are then referred to An Garda Síochána for security clearance.

Garda representatives and members of the OPMI will also travel abroad to conduct interviews with applicants, with health screening also being conducted before refugees arrive in Ireland. Similar screening procedures are in place for those refugees being resettled under the EU's relocation programme.

Meanwhile, Tánaiste Joan Burton has previously stated that when choosing refugees to relocate to Ireland, women and children, including displaced children, would be prioritised.

The staunch defence - from both the left and the right - of women's rights to walk unmolested through the streets of European cities after the Cologne attacks is certainly welcome, but bigots and racists should not be allowed to use the attacks to poison the debate surrounding the refugee crisis with the result that an already disjointed and ineffectual European response is further enfeebled.

Irish Independent

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