Right-wing protesters in Germany.

Quick Hit: “After Cologne, We Can’t Let the Bigots Steal Feminism”

In response to the unabashedly racist media frenzy that has followed reports of numerous sexual assaults in Cologne, Germany earlier this month, writer Laurie Penny asks what is probably the most important question: why can’t we always take sexual assault as seriously as we do when migrants, Muslims, Arabs, and Black men are named as perpetrators?

I quit following coverage of these assaults closely because I couldn’t stomach how much it reeks of racism and hypocrisy. Penny, in a piece over at New Statesman this week, acknowledges this and helpfully pushes back. The attacks in Cologne—she, I, and every other mildly decent human—will say were horrific. But, as she thoughtfully points out, so too are the all-too-familiar responses. Violent protests have been organized in Germany by far-right anti-Muslim organization Pegida: on Sunday, a mob of 20 attacked six Pakistanis; five others attacked and injured a Syrian. The BBC reported that another refugee and multiple Guineans were assaulted in third and fourth attacks. And it isn’t just mobs: Angela Merkel has responded by tightening rules for refugees desperately needing asylum—even though, as Penny notes, “the sensible thing to do right now would be to call, as many German feminists are doing, for a far more rigorous attitude to rape and sexual assault across Europe.”

Yes, that would actually make far more sense. A 2014 a study by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (based on interviews with 42,000 women across the 28 members of the European Union) found that one in 3 women have experienced some form of physical and/or sexual assault since the age of 15 and over one in 5 have been abused by their partnersStatistics by the German Federal Police count more than 7,300 reported rapes and sexual assaults in Germany every year. If Merkel’s response was grounded in concern for violence against women, she would do something about pervasive rape culture—but as usual, as Penny notes, “white supremacist patriarchy only concerns itself with women’s safety and women’s dignity when rape and sexual assault can be pinned on cultural ‘outsiders’.”

The right-wingers and MRAs and Western governments (and the gun lobby here in the United States) don’t suddenly care about ending rape culture. They care about justifying violent agendas. And in Cologne, it means finding any reason to stop non-white migration. “This theft of feminist rhetoric in the name of imperialism and racism has been going on for centuries,” Penny continues, and it’s been especially active part as of late:

In the week since the Cologne attacks have been reported in the global press, a great many men have taken it upon themselves to educate me and other feminists on the point that only Muslim men are sexist. [...] These people have repeatedly demanded that I ‘condemn’ the attacks in Cologne, which is a lazy way of implying that somebody doesn’t really care about an issue.

So let me be clear: sexual violence is never, ever acceptable. Not for cultural reasons. Not for religious reasons. Not because the perpetrators are really angry and disenfranchised. There can be no quarter for systemic misogyny. And if we’re serious about that, there’s not a country or culture on earth that won’t have to take a long, hard look at itself. I stand with the many, many Muslim, Arab, Asian and immigrant feminists organising against sexism and misogyny within and beyond their own communities. Nobody seems to have thought to ask them how best to deal with systemic sexual violence – even though attacks on Muslim women have increased since the terrorist attacks in Paris last year.

Read the rest of her takedown of the deeply flawed political conversation folks in Europe and the United States keep having here.

Header Image Credit: Reuters

Mahroh is a community organizer and law student who believes in building a world where black and brown women and our communities are able to live free of violence. Prior to law school, Mahroh was the Executive Director of Know Your IX, a national survivor- and youth-led organization empowering students to end gender violence and a junior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Her research addresses the ways militarization, racism, and sexual violence impact communities of color transnationally.

Mahroh is currently at Harvard Law School, organizing against state and gender-based violence.

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