Attacks in Cologne

They are 100% playing the PR game. ISIS has demonstrated that they know how to game social media, and they know how to provoke Western governments into responding. They want a ground war. These people aren’t looking to shy away from a fight, they genuinely don’t care if it gives them heat.

No other group would take credit for this. Among other things, that’s really not how they roll. Hezbollah is more of an established militia than anything. They have never accepted or claimed any responsibility for the US embassy bombing, for instance (they didn’t technically exist). I think that talking about Hezbollah like it’s something closer to Al-Qaeda than say, the Peshmerga (for lack of a better contemporaneous example), is really muddying the waters a bit.

As for Al-Qaeda, well… and I feel weird saying this, but they have ethics. Maybe not great ethics, but they have them.

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To be clear, I’m not asking you about what the situation is or will be in Germany - even if it’s not unprecedented, the dynamics are very different and it’s hard to know how things will develop. I’m just trying to give a sense of my mixed feelings at this point. I want to support refugees who come and I’m concerned about our lodger and his family, who don’t know whether they will have to leave Germany after seven years. I’m also unsure about the attacks themselves - were they coordinated or some kind of opportunism given the low level of policing? I don’t think of groups of refugee men as gangs, but I do want to know if things are starting to happen, starting to be reported or if it’s a short term spate of isolated incidents. Specifically, I want to know that my family is and will be safe. I don’t think anyone really knows, which is disconcerting. The biggest part of me is just shocked at this whole mess and wishes so much of life wasn’t governed by what violent people are willing to do for their own fucked up reasons. I really don’t care what colour or religion my neighbour has, I just want to live in peace.

I actually mentioned this to @chgoliz a few months ago - Angela Merkel has always shown a lot of confidence that she knows what the results will be, but I really don’t think there’s a lot of precedent for this complex situation. While people have been very welcoming, I’ve also sensed an underlying sentiment of “I really hope she’s right”.


Until a few years ago refugees in Germany had for the whole asylum process a mandatory residence (is this a word? in German it’s Residenzpflicht), sometimes restricted to the Bundesland (state) other Länders restricted it even more to a district.

The latest law allows such a mandatory place to live for only up to three months, after that time asylum seekers are free to go within Germany. I can understand why they are moving to urban regions (Berlin, Munich, Cologne and Hamburg as largest cities and the metropolitan region Rhine-Ruhr), but this leads to the concentration you and @jsroberts mentioned.

eta: Rhine-Ruhr includes Cologne. oops. but “Ruhr region” without the Rhine is still the largest urban area in Germany : )


Since this became public, there has been quite a lot of action by Syrians and other refugees to show their opposition to the attacks - giving out flowers to female passers-by, talking about it online (for example, using the #SyrerGegenSexismus (Syrians Against Sexism) hashtag (which was started by Sakher Al-Mohamad, a Syrian from Homs now living in Cologne), sharing video statements etc. More than a thousand refugees are expected to attend a demonstration against sexism at Cologne Cathedral today. Recently a number of refugee men were handing out flyers with this message:

We, men from Syria, condemn in the strongest possible terms abuse against women and the attack and robberies on New Year’s Eve.
We regret that women were injured, physically and in their honour, we hope that they will recover well and soon from these attacks.
We hope that the perpetrators of these criminal acts will be found and punished.
Our cultural values were trampled by these crimes. Those values include respect for women and men, respect for bodily integrity, and respect for personal property.
We Syrians have come to Germany as refugees, because we want to live freely in this democratic society. We want to shape, to speak, and to live democracy.
We regret that the acts on New Year’s Eve have brought our group — a group of Syrians, a group of refugees and of other Arab or North African people — and our culture into disrepute.
We’ve fled an inhuman war, in order save our lives and our ability to remain human. We want peace and security and the opportunity to provide for our families through work.
We thank all the people in Germany, both women and men, for all of the help they have so far offered us.
We want to show ourselves worthy of your help. We remain united: Your values are our values.
Germany has done more for us than any other European or Arab country!

Still, there have been some odd responses in certain areas. Male refugees were recently banned from a swimming pool near Cologne after increasing complaints by women, and a couple of events have been cancelled. Then this happened two days ago:

A Bavarian mayor angry about Germany’s asylum policy has sent a busload of Syrian migrants to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office in Berlin.

But he has ended up paying for their accommodation in the capital himself.

Peter Dreier, mayor of the district of Landshut, said he wanted to “send a signal” that Germany’s asylum policies could not continue as before.

The refugees were all volunteers, but they didn’t realise that they were part of the council’s political statement. The mayor waved everyone off, then followed the bus in his car. His stunt wasn’t received very sympathetically.


I think most people think of it as the least bad choice in an emergency. Of course it wasn’t going to be easy, but what else could she have done? Have every Federal cop in the country physically drag refugees to Austria which isn’t any better equipped to deal with them? Build a fence like Hungary? Those have fallen out of fashion around here. Do what she ended up doing while somehow sounding more deterring so that the refugees don’t notice?

One big problem in the refugee debate is that it is full of strawmen and the pro refugee side has not been immune to embracing them. Many of them have communicated exactly the kind of rose-colored view of the refugees that their opponents accused them of holding.

In the real world being a victim and needing or deserving protection does not make you a good person. Among over a million people there will be some of every kind of criminal you can imagine. You couldn’t expect anyone to predict exactly what happened, but a certain overlap between criminal assholes and people with an incompatible view of women is not the biggest surprise either.

However sometimes the right thing to do remains the right thing to do even when it comes at a high cost. Today the question is the same as it was all along. Are you willing to prejudge a fifth of humanity based on what some small fraction of them has done or may do in the future? My answer is still ‘no.’ Now it is our job to defend our values - whether against refugees or their enemies.


That’s very true, which is why I want to see dialogue that is not based on romantic or xenophobic ideas about the issues. Where too rosy a picture of what to expect is given by the pro-refugee side, it depends on this kind of event not happening as anything bad that refugees do will be seen to undermine this message. There’s no way to guarantee that everything will go swimmingly, especially as groups like ISIS will do what they can to drive a wedge between Europeans and refugees.

I guess what I want is for people to be able to recognise and address specific issues within a demographic without demonising that group. If a subset of football fans are causing trouble, don’t ignore it or blame it on all men or everyone who likes football. Instead, look at the culture and systems that enable it and try to find ways of promoting the positive sides without tolerating the abuse. Where people do not act in accordance with a peaceful and tolerant society, they need to be integrated into it (without this requiring assimilation into a particular culture). That goes for islamophobic Germans as much as sexually abusive Syrians. Amplifying the voices of those who are different yet seek peace is a good way of giving them power to promote a peaceful society.


I saw this on Saturday, but it doesn’t seem to have been reported in the English speaking press at all. The Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) wants to make 2016 a “Year for Women” and introduce a number of changes. They want to improve the relationship between the genders in society as well as modernising gender models and ensuring respect in everyday life through a few measures. These include:

  • Recognition that sexual violence takes place in all areas of society, including among white Germans
  • Affirmation that people from all backgrounds have the right to gender equality.
  • Closing the income gap, appreciating social professions that are particularly conducted by women and compensating for disadvantages in retirement.
  • Improving flexibility in working hours and increasing the availability of kindergartens to allow people to combine work and family responsibilities.
  • Banning advertising that is degrading to women or men.
  • Focusing on female refugees’ interests, including promoting their integration and protecting them from violence and sexual assault. Granting them access to German support services regardless of their asylum status. Tightening the penal code for sexual offences.

Two years ago the SPD championed a quota of 30% of seats on non-executive boards for women, which will come into force from this year. The SPD is in a coalition with the Christian Democrats (CDU), which is Angela Merkel’s party.


Tomorrow is going to be an important day in Cologne - it’s the Women’s Carnival Day:

Marking the last Thursday before Lent, Cologne’s Weiberfastnacht traditionally sees women dressed in colourful costumes frequenting the streets and bars of the city, pecking strangers on the cheek and playing practical jokes, such as cutting off ties. The “crazy days” of carnival peak with a procession of floats on the following Monday.

All being well, there won’t be any trouble, and the police are doubling their numbers and increasing surveillance to make sure everyone’s safe; but the mood has changed in Germany and other countries that were a lot more welcoming a few months ago. This was a survey taken this month which asked whether the government had the asylum crisis under control (the parties in order are: CDU/CSU, Greens, Left, SPD, FDP, Alternative for Germany. It isn’t positive, even for Merkel’s own party.

CDU/CSU (Merkel’s party) has lost 7 percentage points in support since September and AfD has gained 8 (overtaking FDP, Left and Greens). 37% are happy with the government, down 11% from January. The mood among refugees is also a lot lower - we know some people who have been working with refugees for many years, and they say that there is a definite feeling of helplessness and lower stability. People stop attending classes or working toward other qualifications, because who knows if they will still be here next year? Meanwhile there are still reports of assaults - last week a colleague’s aunt was badly beaten by a refugee while out jogging, and ended up in hospital. It’s not all bad - there’s still a lot of activism and many people aren’t going to let this affect their support for refugees, but yeah… not encouraging right now.


Not sure if this is already covered internationally, here some figures published in Die Zeit.

22 reports on sexual offences were received by the police, up from 9 last year. The police chief of Cologne observed a higher willingness to report sexual harassment (Yeah!), his example was one case were a bouncer demanded “25 € or a kiss”, a kind of harassment that would have been shrugged off in former years.

The worst crime was a rape, an underage suspect was arrested.

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I didn’t know whether to like that, but I’m relieved that at least it’s not on the scale of NYE. It’s also good that they’re not going to talk about the ethnicities of the perpetrators - set a high standard and arrest anyone who doesn’t meet that.

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The first criminal proceedings ended yesterday, one immigrant was sentenced to 6 months of suspended sentence and 100 EUR fine (or 20 days of approx. income). He was found guilty for stealing a phone, it couldn’t be proved that he was part of the sexual harassment.

The degree of penalty is quite harsh and the suspect was over two months in investigative custody - but I think it’s still within the normal range and not some kind of Brown People Criminal Law.


This isn’t in Germany, but there will be a referendum in Switzerland tomorrow on deporting foreigners who commit two minor offences within ten years. Foreigners are already deported for murder and rape, but this would make the law much stricter to include things like speeding and arguing with a police officer. It’s also significant as it’s very difficult to get Swiss nationality, even if you were born there or have lived your whole life there. The proposal would make this automatic, even if you have dependants in the country and are a permanent resident.

A totally not symbolic white sheep kicking the criminal black foreign sheep out of the country in order to bring security to the country at last. It was criticised a few years ago when it first came out, but now it’s come back again.


Defeated, apparently. Good.


ha, seconds before I posted a link : ) I would have added that the vote was the first one the right-wing party SVP backed and lost in a long time - today is a good day.


This is something that has been going on for the last while in Hamburg, and might have an effect outside of the city too if it’s shown to work. Over 45% of refugees in Hamburg are living in big halls rather than smaller accommodation, which can make it more difficult for people to integrate into society. People generally aren’t happy about this, both because they want refugees to have decent conditions and because they feel less safe with these large centres near their homes. The largest one near us is a converted DIY store, and there’s another big one in one of the trade fair buildings in the centre of the city. This week there was a petition to limit these centres to 300 people, and spread them out so there’s at least 1 km between centres with more than 100 people. A petition needs 10,000 signatures to be considered, and this one had 26,000 after 4 days - a new record. The organisers delivered it to the council in green folders sealed with a red ribbon, to symbolise the two main parties.

It’s not been particularly welcomed by politicians and it may not be easy (or even possible) to implement, but it’s a clear message (as was last November’s vote against hosting the 2024 Olympics in the city - a number of people argued that if the city has the money to host the Olympics, it would be better spent on preventing the ghettoisation of the refugee centres). I’m sure the opposition to large refugee accommodation comes from many different motives, but it will be interesting to see if a good compromise can be achieved.


Not directly related to the Cologne attacks, but politically interesting. Today the parliaments of three states were elected, the campaigns were dominated by the refugees topic.

(btw, the Greens in Baden-Württemberg are not exactly left-leaning; they are on the conservative side of the green political spectrum)


They really are milking it. I bet AfD opened some champagne when they heard the news in early January.


Btw. they released the first photos of suspects a few days back. As I said back then, usually that takes a while.


A story from last week: Stefan Jagsch, 29, a regional leader of the extreme right German NPD party, swerved from the road near the town of Buedingen in Hesse in the morning of March 16, and crashed into a tree. A coach full of refugees, including two Syrian men came to the aid of injured Jagsch, pulling him from the wreckage of his vehicle and administering first aid before emergency services arrived at the scene.

It seems to be a common theme over the past year for Muslims to go out of their way to help non-Muslims, including risking their own lives to protect others.


short update: the BKA mostly closed the investigations of the new year’s eve events, the figures are non-satisfying and appalling

nationwide about 900 cases of sexual harassment with 1200 victims, the police could identify 120 suspects, but the evidence was too meager: to date four convictions, with very low probability to identify and prosecute more.