Ethics of Cologne

by Uygar Baspehlivan, a second-year BA International Relations student at King’s College London.


Doesn’t it feel like everything that can go wrong in regards to the refugee crisis in Europe, actually happens in the worst way possible with attacks in Cologne on the headlines and Sweden closing its borders? It feels like Europe, concordant with Middle East is rapidly sliding towards this spiral of bad decisions and badly timed actions and conflicts. With no sign of improvement on the horizon, it seems like we need to accept the current inflow of refugees into Europe and analyse the implications of it for societies and refugees and their inevitable clash of cultures. Cologne attacks on New Year’s Eve was an unprecedented event as sexual assaults and sexist slurs are unfortunately still a frequent occasion in modern societies; however, the racial distinction of these assaulters challenged European societies to face their own morality. Were they ready to accept an entirely different culture and consequently, a new morality that might possibly fracture their internal order?

The reactions of high-profile Swedish and German politicians and public figures (countries that are deemed to be the beacon of European moralism), demonstrate the waning ethicality of Western governments and the introduction of a resurgent protectionist rhetoric in these countries. “These are so-called refugee youths, specifically from Afghanistan. Several of the gang were arrested for sexual molestation,” [1]one police memo said.” The interpellation of these assaulters as ‘refugee youths’ can be argued to showcase how the so-called beacons of morality fail to uphold a humanitarian position when the ethical order of their own communities are at stake. “The fact that the men responsible for the attacks were largely immigrants is also not a shock.[2]” said R.W. Dooley of the U.S. Today showing the inherent cultural backlash that the attacks generated. Looking at these New Year’s Eve assaults and the culture-focused rhetoric of the citizens of the host countries displays the clash of cultures that is blooming in European countries day by day. Integration of refugees into their newly-assumed societies has been a predominant topic of discussions in the policy centers of Europe.

The assumption and the prerequisite for asylum was the adaptation and integration of these refugees into their respective societies so that the internal cohesion of the states can remain intact regardless of the cultural heterogeneity. One can even argue that it was a de facto social contract. However cultural adaptation is not that easy. As a Turkish citizen, I can affirm that, unfortunately, sexism and rape culture are still quite common even in Turkey, a supposedly developed Muslim society. “In Turkey, according to a study, some commonly-expressed views on rape were given to individuals from various professions, who were asked to agree or disagree; results recorded that 33% of the police officers agreed that ‘some women deserve rape’, 66% of police officers, as well as nearly 50% of other professional groups except the psychologists about 18% and 27% of psychiatrists, suggested that ‘the physical appearance and behaviors of women tempt men to rape.’[3]It is a part of modernity that several Muslim societies couldn’t yet manage to surmount. The Cologne attacks, hence resulted in the culmination of the cultural tension that was an inevitable result of failed integration. “Police say 883 people have now filed criminal complaints over the events in Cologne, including 497 women alleging sexual assault.[4]”. The shock factor of these numbers certainly brought an urgent need to talk about this issue that the European societies forestalled for months. Under pressure, Angela Merkel and Stefan Löfven both had to respond to attacks one way or another and although they both chose to ignore the ethical background of the assaulters, this clash of cultures needs to be addressed. For me, there comes the significance of two dimensions of ethics and the inevitable tension between them. Looking at the refugee crisis, one can see that Western countries are faced with a tough choice which I shall address as “tension of ethics”. A choice has to be made between two dimensions of ethics; a country’s internal ethics, the domestic moral system that consists of enforcing civil law, ideas of right and wrong when living in a society, like theft, rape etc, and a country’s external ethics, the ethical measures that it has to uphold when it comes to international crises, wars, debates etc. such as the R2P or the UNHCR. The attacks of Cologne and similar problems of integration in Sweden point towards a conflict between these two ethicalities. How long can Sweden and Germany support the refugee inflow when the internal cohesion of their countries, be it the failed integration of the refugees or the rise of right-wing extremists, is at peril. Externally, both Sweden and Germany are known to be holding a certain ethical standard when it comes to international issues; they were the ones most enthusiastic when the refugee crisis became an immediate problem and they were the ones who strongly and persistently advocated for asylum rights in the EU and other international organizations. But as a society crumbles with mutual inadaptability of cultures, new policies need to be implemented; a choice of ethical dimensions. Introducing border controls was the first step of Germany and Sweden moving away from their externally oriented politics, and these attacks certainly will pave the way towards further internalization. Europeans are getting more and more intolerant to refugees and international politics is losing its ethicality for the sake of internal. A return to national interest emphasized by realists is at sight and it’s coming from the most unexpected countries, Germany and Sweden, that are known for their moral international posture. A question needs to be asked: will other countries choose their internal ethics when they face similar integration issues? If international humanitarian law is not enforced with more vigour, even those countries we trust the most will choose the path of the “selfish”, rather than the “selfless”. And so deeper engagement with the domestics of the refugee-taking states is essential to solve the problem that seems to be getting worse and worse each day.





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