However much has been said and written about the sexual harassments in Cologne at the New Year Eve, the discussion has not faded away yet. So I take the opportunity to contribute, even if a bit late.
It was significantly disturbing to watch how the debate over sexual harassment against women was hijacked by national and racist discourse. It needs to be highlighted that the conservative groups claiming to defend women’s ‘honor’ and ‘rights’ are the first to attack women’s rights, especially their sexual and reproductive health and rights, via their neoliberal and conservative policies.
Women’s bodies are once again being used as a weapon. Those itching to bully refugees are using them, those who yearn to attack the government are using them, those who desire to distinct themselves from the other refugees are using them and those who are Islamo-phobic or Arabo-phobic are using them. The space left for comprehending the pain of those women was very little.
According to a statement by feminist activists, the German Federal Police count more than 7,300 reported rapes and sexual assaults in Germany per year, amounting to more than 20 every day. This was absent from the discourse. And hence, one understands why the German society was “too” shocked of the Cologne incidents. If sexual harassment does not happen in such a massive, public way, it does not exist.
Focusing so much on the identity of the perpetuators has overshadowed the sexual harassment phenomenon, which happens regularly in various private and public sphere. It has also pushed large sectors of refugee men to feel that the harassment was done in their names, and hence they need to apologize, in a humiliating way. Some groups of refugee-men staged actions in some cities (Syrians distributing apology leaflets in Cologne or Iraqis holding signs in Berlin) offering apology, one sign said ” We are from Iraq, and we say sorry”.
Not only that these apologies lack the comprehending of what does the sexually harassed women go through, they are a result of the “collective accusations” discourse. Now all Arabs/refugees/North Africans hold responsibility for what happened. It’s like when a criminal (who happens to be white) commits a crime, and all whites are marked as “terrorists” until proven otherwise.
These men, at least as I see it, are not apologizing because they comprehend the act, rather, because they fear the consequences. And of course, they were pushed to feel this way by the discourse that developed.
And last but not least, we should not deny or whitewash the problems that exist in our Arab societies, where some cultural-conservative heritage oppress women, combined with commercial-capitalist values that objectify them. The struggle of women in those societies never stopped and will continue. It’s a universal struggle, even though some like to whitewash patriarchy in their societies.