Malte Patrik Rosenberger writes to a friend in Bahrain in response to the attacks in Germany on New Year’s Eve.
I am very thankful that you chose to share your thoughts with me about the assaults that took place during New Year’s Eve at the central train station in Cologne, Germany. I understand how disgusted you are—as an Arab Muslim, a woman, an immigrant yourself—and I know that you hoped to never receive news of immigrants harming people of their host country in an apparently organized and prepared way.
I am sure that after all these years we have been friends, you know that I have a deep respect for every religion, culture and nation, and that I believe that one day we will live together on this planet in peace. But sometimes it gets very difficult to keep believing.
We Germans are convinced that we will be able to integrate the millions of new citizens into our society, although we are getting more and more angry that our fellow friends from other European countries refuse to give shelter to refugees.
Germany has a long tradition of welcoming refugees from different regions of the world. We integrated 14 million refugees from the former eastern parts of Germany into the remaining territory after World War II.
Today, we face a new dimension. In 2015 alone, 1.1 million migrants arrived in Germany—roughly half of them from Syria. Now, we have to cope with a new kind of integration.
The serious incidents in Cologne and other German cities on New Year’s Eve, where dozens of women were robbed, attacked and/or sexually assaulted by up to 1,000 men, are at the top of the news agenda. According to many witnesses, the attacks were committed by men of North African or Arab descent.
These shocking incidents have sparked a heated debate over women’s rights, integration of migrants and refugees, and the respect of basic German values.
There is a real sense of shock and awe, and all major politicians have reacted to the assaults, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière and Justice Minister Heiko Maas. They have all condemned the “new dimension of organized crime” and stated that police presence will be increased to ensure safety for all women at the carnival in February. They also emphasized that an effort needs to be made to ensure migrants respect equal rights of women and men.
I believe the message which goes out from the reaction to these appalling events will state clearly that every migrant must accept that he or she lives in a European society, with its liberal and democratic principles of freedom and respect for every individual. We Germans—as a host nation—face an immense, long-term undertaking of education of our commons rights, a code of conduct and values, and the integration into the German society.
Men and boys with roots in the Arab and Muslim world living in Europe will have to accept that if they want to be more than just a guest in Germany, they must follow our rules of citizenship, including respect for women and girls as individuals with exactly the same rights.
It has been stated today that Germany as a nation with European, liberal and democratic values will not tolerate any aggression against women. If migrants do not respect our values, the punishment will be harsh and consequent—as it is for anyone who violates the law.
On the other hand, we will do our utmost to stop extreme right-wing parties who spread their hate and use incidents like those from Cologne, Hamburg and Stuttgart to paint all migrants as a threat to Germany.
Since October 2014, the right-wing PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident) movement has organized frequent demonstrations in different cities throughout Germany, gathering up to 20,000 participants. While counterdemonstrations of various organizations defending an open-minded, democratic society often mobilize five to ten times as many participants, an increase in xenophobic extremism is a reality for some parts of Germany.
Yet this rise is still very much inferior to the success of extreme right-wing parties in other European countries. Recent polls suggest that Alternative for Germany (AfD), a moderate right-wing party, might receive up to 10% of German votes.
Lessons need to be learned from the terrible events in Cologne. I appreciate your vision of a society that respects all individuals and one that protects its citizen against all kinds of violence. I hope Germany will remain a place for everyone—a peaceful country that is open-minded and takes advantage of immigration to build a society and a future that benefits all.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.