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he echoes of the mass sexual assaults during the New Year’s Eve Celebrations in Cologne and other German cities continue to reverberate through international public, political and academic debates. In Germany, they represented a testing ground for the country’s refugee politics and “Willkommenskultur,” the much promoted welcoming attitude to refugees.
For many Germans who swayed between skepticism about the chancellor’s “we can do it” mentality and empathy with people fleeing war and inhuman conditions, the assaults tended to tip the balance towards outright rejection. For others, however, it became an incentive to step up and become more active in addressing both refugee issues and sexism—not refugee sexism, but sexism in general. Campaigns such as “ausnahmslos” or an impassioned video by the Berlin based “satire califate” Datteltäter attracted not only thousands of viewers and signatories but led to further public debate about the incidents’ implications.
The aim of the forum is to explore the meaning of the Cologne sexual assaults in relation to the diversity of topics that resonate with them: issues of patriarchy, racism, economic and geopolitical hierarchies, policing of borders and sexuality, and nationalism. When the forum was proposed, it seemed difficult to find reliable information on the incidents. Initial anglophone coverage was sparse and deeply problematic in its analysis, from comparisons with the ‘Arab phenomena’ of collective harrassment to the apparent foreigness of sexual harassment to Western culture. In the meantime, more details and perspectives from Germany have emerged that are accessible to anglophone readers including pieces by Dina Wahba, Anne Jenichen, and the Heinrich Boell Stiftung. There have also been disturbing conclusions and developments from the events, such as controversial sex education pages for refugees from the German government website, tougher asylum regulations, including calls for Australian style detention.
There is no doubt that the consequences of the Cologne sexual assaults will be far-reaching. The contributions to this forum show not only that the events resonate in other places, but also with events in other places. In some sense, Cologne is not a freak incident, but a continuation of a pattern. Despite the many indicators that such patterns will continue unquestioned, there is also a sense that Cologne can serve as a rallying point for constructive anger against a toxic blindspot—the avoidance of examining how the whole world is implicated in the intersection of geopolitical violence, racism and sexism. The maintenance of this blindspot has obvious benefits—economic and image related ones, for example – but creates intolerable conditions in the long run. I hope that this forum can contribute to sustaining the debate, the attempts to unmask blindspots and especially the resonance beyond Germany.
At this point, I would like to thank the participants in this forum for their contributions, but also the colleagues who could not take part and instead helped with conversations, support and assistance with contributor, reading and event suggestions: Rirhandu Margeza-Barthel, Gökce Yurdakul, Uli Beisel, Lisa Tilley, Elahe Haschemi-Yekani, Elena Vacchelli, Antke Engel, Silvia Posocco, Jinthana Haritaworn, Volker Woltersdorff, Kye Askins, Anne Jenichen, Nana Heidenreich, Ayhan Kaya, Azadeh Sharifi, Mary Thomas, and Bobby Benedicto.