The tensions simmering

The New York Times story on the Köln (Cologne) mess is deeply depressing.

The tensions simmering beneath Germany’s willingness to take in one million migrants blew into the open on Tuesday after reports that scores of young women in Cologne had been groped and robbed on New Year’s Eve by gangs of men described by the authorities as having “a North African or Arabic” appearance.

The German authorities expressed outrage at the attacks and called them unprecedented in scale and nature, saying hundreds of young men appeared to have participated.

It was not clear that any of the men involved were recent arrivals to Germany over the last year from conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, North Africa and elsewhere. But the situation created a new political challenge for Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose decision to take in refugees from conflict-ridden nations opened the doors to waves of migrants last summer and fall. As the number of asylum-seekers has grown and the challenge of assimilating them has become clearer, she has come under intensifying criticism for failing to anticipate the social and economic costs of her policy.

At the other end of the spectrum from Merkel and Germany are the countries that reject refugees altogether, so that you get desperate people pushed from one railway station to another, or drowning in leaky little boats, or held in nightmare refugee camps. It would be nice if the generous thing to do could work out to be also the sensible and productive thing to do, but this story doesn’t seem like a good omen.

The descriptions of the assailants — by the police and victims quoted in the news media — as being young foreign men who spoke neither German nor English immediately stoked the debate over how to integrate such large numbers of migrants and focused new attention on how to deal with the influx of young, mostly Muslim men from more socially conservative cultures where women do not share the same freedoms and protections as men.

The assaults, which went largely unreported for days, set off accusations on the right and among some political commentators that authorities and the news media had tried to ignore or cover up the attacks in order to avoid fueling a backlash against the refugees.

Far right groups are yelping, but so are groups and people to the left of them.

Several hundred people gathered in front of Cologne’s cathedral late Tuesday to protest violence against women. Several groups promoting women’s rights have complained that the authorities have not taken complaints about sexual abuse of women in refugee shelters seriously enough.

Oh I give up.

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