Does Germany's leadership class secretly want to destroy the European Union? I'm beginning to wonder.
The news from Cologne, of the mass, semi-coordinated sexual assault of women revelers on New Year's Eve started dripping out on January 4 and 5. And those first news stories, the ones that quoted the mayor of Cologne, or the ones that appeared in premier publications, like the The New York Times, had something strange in common. They all framed the story in this way: Something regrettable happened in Cologne on New Year's Eve, and it could be really bad because it will cause people in Europe to think bad thoughts about immigrants, refugees, and migrants, or about the politicians who are committed to swelling their ranks in Europe. "Reports of Attacks on Women in Germany Heighten Tension Over Migrants," said the respectable media.
The real scandal, it was implied, was not that these hundreds of allegedly North African and Arab men had groped, harassed, robbed, and raped women in the street. Or that the police were inept or unwilling to stop it. It was that this minority of a minority had, inadvertently, cooperated with the real evil stalking Europe: the populist backlash against mass immigration and its political enablers. Less than a handful of the rapists have been arrested for the crimes they committed in the sight of police that night. Europe's political class has already set about firmly scolding anyone who draws the wrong conclusions.
But more drips of the story are coming out. And each one makes it worse. Non-sensational news sources admitted that police had originally sought not to publicize the "politically awkward" crime spree. They were right to fear it was politically awkward. Leaked police reports reveal a man involved in the assault allegedly scolded police: "I am Syrian. You have to treat me kindly. Mrs. Merkel invited me." Another tore up his residency permit and reportedly taunted, "You can't do anything to me, I can get a new one tomorrow." As of this writing, just over 30 of the attackers have been identified by police. Eighteen of them were asylum-seekers.
Oh, and here's something I haven't mentioned yet: It was not just Cologne. Hamburg and Stuttgart also experienced something like what happened in Cologne on a smaller scale. And it wasn't just Germany. Helsinki's police department was tipped off about a similar planned spree.
The reluctance to publicize these events recalls the awful case in Rotherham, England, where a mafia-like gang of immigrants abused something like 1,400 children between 1997 and 2013. The abuse flourished under a cloud of self-congratulating silence because authorities did not want to contribute to stereotyping about Pakistanis living in Britain. One potential whistleblower was ordered to undergo sensitivity training after trying to draw attention to the abuse.
Germany's political class seems just as committed to noble blindness and it could not be more unsettling or provocative. The mayor of Cologne, Henriette Reker, has previously distinguished herself as a vocal supporter of welcoming refugees. In fact, she was nearly a martyr for that cause. Last year she was stabbed at a campaign event by a German who hated his nation's immigration policy.
After news of the attacks began to leak out, Reker condescendingly advised German women to adopt a "code of conduct" in order to avoid sexual assault. She suggested that they "stick together in groups, don't get split up, even if you're in a party mood." Then she added "make sure yourself you don't look to be too close to people who are not known to you and to whom you don't have a trusting relationship." This is fine advice for a mother to give. But a mayor should be promising the restoration of safe streets.
What's worse is that Reker's advice highlights that Cologne has temporarily lost one of the heretofore distinguishing features of Western civilization: the general sense of social trust and solidarity that allows women to venture freely and safely in central city districts. Her code of conduct sounded like a European concession to Sharia law: women must be modest and accompanied by trusted guardians, or else.
Reker backhandedly admitted that the assailants were North Africans and Arabs, likely of recent arrival, when she added, "We need to explain to people from other cultures that the jolly and frisky attitude during our Carnival is not a sign of sexual openness." The condescension runs in two directions. Germany's women are blamed for their own sexual assault, and the criminals are relieved of guilt. They merely suffer from a misunderstanding about how to party correctly, and that can be remedied if only Germans educated them. You see, it's the native's fault both ways.
And that's the attitude at the top as well. Germany this week finalized a deal with Facebook, Google, and Twitter to censor German "hate speech" about migrants and refugees on social media — though it's not clear at all where the line lies. Is a complaint about migrants enough to have your Facebook post taken down? Also, this week Merkel rejected a proposed cap of taking just 200,000 refugees in 2016.
The message to ordinary Germans is clear: You can't be allowed to say what you are thinking. And you probably shouldn't think it either.
Merkel has, for her part, tried to assure Germans that these crimes won't be tolerated. Though the likelihood of arresting even a majority of perpetrators, convicting a handful of them, or deporting any of them seems remote. The political class of Germany seems overwhelmed. Perhaps that is just deserts, considering that Merkel has been willing to saddle some small German towns with a number of refugees that exceeds their own population by a multiple of seven. She simply has no idea what she had unleashed.
All last summer, European media featured daily stories about the refugee crisis around the Mediterranean, and what European countries were contributing or failing to contribute to abate the tragedy. The emotional high point came with the publication of the picture of the drowned child, Aylan Kurdi, along the shores of Turkey in the first days of September. Days later Angela Merkel said Germany would lead Europe in welcoming refugees, especially those that were being kept out of Europe because of anti-migrant leadership on Europe's periphery.
Immediately, the media undertow shifted in the other direction. And the daily drum of stories has been about the problems of screening in the refugee crisis, about scenes of disorder, or the lack of women and children among certain refugee populations. Then the attack in Paris confirmed that evil men would use the refugee flow to travel through Europe. And now Cologne.
The stakes could not be higher for Europe's future. Merkel and Germany's political class seem to be blundering into a disaster. Their move to moral leadership of Europe now looks naive and stupid. And they risk making the debate about Europe's future a referendum on Merkel's leadership in this continent-wide drama. This would be a disaster, because there really is an actual referendum on Europe's future in the near term.
David Cameron has demanded a tough renegotiation of the E.U. as he promises a Britain referendum on an exit. A spiritual, if not political, secession is already happening in Eastern Europe. There is Orban's Hungary, Poland has thrown out every left of center politician from government, and there are very popular anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim demonstrations in that country. Even Slovakia's political leaders are saying what was unsayable in Europe: The refugees can't be integrated.
It is hard not to notice that the European Union is failing in the tasks for which it was founded. It was founded in the horror of the Holocaust. And now its policy on migration is creating societies that are deeply hostile to Jews. And Jews have responded by evacuating Europe.
The E.U. was was built in part to contain Germany's power in Europe, which has threatened the stability of the continent whenever and ever since that country was first united. Now the E.U. has become the political vehicle for the economic and political domination of Europe by Germany. Irish assets are underperforming? Germany will force Ireland to nationalize their debts to protect German banks from exposure. Greece wants to renegotiate its debt? No way. Merkel locuta est, causa finita est.
If Europe begins to unravel in 2016, the proximate cause will have been the events in Cologne around midnight on Jan. 1.