The news of the sexual abuse in Cologne, Germany during New Year’s Eve reverberated across the West. Over 350 women have filed complaints with the police.
As someone living partly in the Kurdistan Region and partly in the West, I am touched by the way the incident is creating waves that have results for asylum seekers who recently came to Europe: borders are closing and single men are less welcome.
But it also affects those who already are living in Europe; in Germany some swimming pools will no longer accept single men.
Voice from the extreme right claiming that allowing Middle Eastern men in will lead to a rise in sexual violence, have become even louder. Now this can no longer be brushed aside as racist.
I am reminded of incidents we hear of in the region where some of the perpetrators originate: about taxi drivers who abuse women after they step in their cars in their own, and men who grope women in shopping centres and bars.
Violence against women is a problem in Iraq, and in Kurdistan a special department has been set up to battle it. But still women are killed in honour related incidents, or they are forced to set themselves on fire to make it look like a suicide.
Recently, a woman was found dead in an area not far from where I live in the Kurdistan capital of Erbil. The initial reports were that she was murdered. But a couple of days later, the police published a report claiming she had committed suicide – that hardly anyone believed.
In a region where women are mainly valued for their honour, girls are taught how to behave so they won’t attract the (unwanted) attention of men. At the same time, boys are often brought up as princes who can have all they ask for. While girls are taught to protect themselves, boys do not learn to keep their hands off.
And even worse, if boys misbehave, they often get away with it. But girls pay the price, by being criticized or even punished for losing their honour – even if they are not to blame, they do get the blame. What does this tell men? That they are superior and have more rights. And women? That they are second after the men.
While in Western countries women are considered equal to men, in Islamic countries they are not. Their testimony is worth half compared to that of a man, they only get half of the share of the heritage compared to their brothers.
Religion, culture and tradition put men above women. Men have to look after the women, not because as mothers they need protection for themselves and their offspring, but because they are considered to be their property – or at least so it is felt. That’s why many husbands keep their women at home and/or order her to wear a scarf. Because other men may take the liberty to put their eye on them, or even more.
This clash between the sexes now has spilt over to Europe. Boys who were brought up in a world where women are kept away from their eager fingers, find themselves in a sweetshop with all these western women who walk around without a visible owner.
It’s not that sexual abuse does not happen in the West. It happens, and incidents like the one in Cologne have also been reported during pop concerts.
But what is new, is that the hunt is on. And that the perpetrators are men who consider it their right to abuse women, as they are not protected by anyone.
It’s a bit like the religious zealot who took and destroyed a bottle of arak that was in my car, when I sent it in for servicing. He was not wrong for taking my property and imposing his religious rules on me, I was to blame for not protecting it.
Years of development of freedom, of feminism and fighting for equal rights have been lost on these men. The fact that in a free society people abide by all kinds of (unwritten) rules not because they are forced to, but because they choose to in order to be able to live in freedom, is lost on them too.
What should the West do, to guarantee the continuation of this beloved freedom, and yet welcome newcomers?
First of all: do not get scared. Fear is a bad advisor. Second: add lessons about the position of woman and the liberties of the western society to the packet of information given to asylum seekers. And teach them this society that attracted them in the first place, is based on a balancing act that involves trust, respect and stability.
Third: punish the perpetrators. Because before everything else, they need to understand how valuable this way of life is, and that westerners will not allow them to destroy it.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.