Last week, roughly 200 women in Cologne, Germany, reported that they were sexually assaulted on New Year’s Eve in a public square by a mob of more than a thousand Arab men.
That number exploded this week. More than 600 women now claim they were assaulted, molested, robbed and even raped, and reports are coming in not only from Cologne but also from elsewhere in Germany and even elsewhere in Europe.
Europeans and especially Germans are furious, of course, not only at the perps but also at German Chancellor Angela Merkel for accepting a million refugees from Syria. That’s a staggering number. It’s as if the United States had accepted four million refugees all in one go, which is roughly the population of my home state of Oregon.
At least the United States has a long history of successfully integrating immigrants, including Arab immigrants. According to data from Cornell University, two-thirds of American Muslims earn more than 50,000 dollars a year, and a fourth earn more than 100,000 dollars a year. That’s hardly the profile of a failed immigrant group.
Europe, though, has a much harder time with this sort of thing, and Germany is in an uproar. Protests are breaking out everywhere, with demonstrators yelling “deport them” and carrying signs that say “Rapefugees not welcome” in English.
The culprits are mostly Arabs, and Merkel’s refugee policy is predictably collapsing as a result, but the rapefest in Cologne was not imported from Syria. It mostly comes from North Africa.
Women have fewer rights in the Middle East and North Africa than anywhere else in the world with the single exception of Afghanistan, and they’re abused far more often over there than anywhere in the West, but they aren’t routinely assaulted by hundreds of men in unruly mobs all at once anywhere except Egypt.
Many years ago in Cairo I struck up a conversation with an Australian woman at a restaurant who was traveling around on break from her job at the Ministry of Defense.
“This is the absolute worst place for a woman to travel alone,” she said. “Men harass me constantly. They hiss, stare, and make kissy noises.”
I told her what one of my Syrian friends once said to my wife, that if she ever goes there she should carry a spare shoe in her purse. If any man gives her trouble and she whacks him with the bottom of the shoe, a mob will chase him down and kick his ass.
The Australian woman laughed. “Syria is wonderful, though. I mean, it’s much more oppressive than Egypt. But it’s also more modern. No man ever bothered me there. No men bothered me in Lebanon, either. I was surprised. Lebanese and Syrian men are more respectful even than European men.”
I can’t know from personal experience what it’s like to walk around as a woman in the Middle East or North Africa, but I’ve spent more than a decade of my life on and off in that part of the world and have had conversations with more than a thousand people, men and women alike. Women are unanimous here: Harassment in North Africa ranges from annoying to unspeakable while it’s virtually non-existent in Lebanon and Syria. I don’t know why. That’s just how it is.
“The worst part is that Egyptian men won’t back down when I tell them to leave me alone,” the Australian woman in Cairo added.
The Cologne police department says most of the offenders come from North Africa rather than Syria, which is exactly what we should expect.
“In a 2008 survey by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights,” Mona Eltahawy writes in her book, Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution. “More than 80 percent of Egyptian women said they’d experienced sexual harassment, and more than 60 percent of men admitted to harassing women. A 2013 UN survey reported that 99.3 percent of Egyptian women experience street sexual harassment. Men grope and sexually assault us, and yet we are blamed for it because we were in the wrong place at the wrong time, wearing the wrong thing.”
Sexual assault in public is so pervasive in Egypt that the authorities ban men from some cars on the subway so women can get to work in the morning without being mauled.
Foreign women get it in Egypt, too, most infamously when CBS reporter Lara Logan was brutally assaulted in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on the night the Egyptian army removed Hosni Mubarak from power. An enormous mob surrounded her, stripped her naked, sexually assaulted her and damn near killed her.
“I didn't even know that they were beating me with flagpoles and sticks and things,” she later said in an interview on 60 Minutes. “Because the sexual assault was all I could feel, their hands raping me over and over and over again. They were trying to tear off chunks of my scalp…not trying to pull out my hair, holding big wads of it literally trying to tear my scalp off my skull.”
She thought they were going to kill her. They probably would have if she hadn’t been rescued by Egyptian women who themselves have suffered plenty at the rough hands of their neighbors.
The same thing happened to British journalist Natasha Smith the following year, and she wrote about it in excruciating detail on her blog.
In a split second, everything changed. Men had been groping me for a while, but suddenly, something shifted. I found myself being dragged from my male friend, groped all over, with increasing force and aggression. I screamed. I could see what was happening and I saw that I was powerless to stop it. I couldn’t believe I had got into this situation.
My friend did everything he could to hold onto me. But hundreds of men were dragging me away, kicking and screaming. I was pushed onto a small platform as the crowd surged, where I was hunched over, determined to protect my camera. But it was no use. My camera was snatched from my grasp. My rucksack was torn from my back – it was so crowded that I didn’t even feel it. The mob stumbled off the platform – I twisted my ankle.
Men began to rip off my clothes. I was stripped naked. Their insatiable appetite to hurt me heightened. These men, hundreds of them, had turned from humans to animals.
Hundreds of men pulled my limbs apart and threw me around. They were scratching and clenching my breasts and forcing their fingers inside me in every possible way. So many men. All I could see was leering faces, more and more faces sneering and jeering as I was tossed around like fresh meat among starving lions.
Germany has announced that it’s changing the law to make it far easier to swiftly deport migrant criminals. Most of those involved in Cologne are apparently not Syrian refugees, but they can still be sent back to wherever it is they come from if they are not citizens.
Those who are seeking asylum from Syria and think it’s okay to rape and molest women in Europe’s most generous host country may soon find themselves deported post-haste back to where they belong—to the war zone.