Cologne – Clash of Civilisations?

Reflecting upon the attacks in Cologne, Charlotte Collins tackles one of the contentious issues surrounding the migrant crisis: how can the differences between civilisations be addressed?  

The worrying events that have taken place in Cologne over the New Year have rekindled the debate that was at the epicentre of media and political attention throughout 2015: the migrant crisis. Reports are emerging of a mass organised attack, which took place in the main square adjoining Cologne’s Cathedral and main railway station. Authorities are on the hunt for a group of more than 1000 men who are said to have launched predatory sexual assaults upon women, who at the time were celebrating the New Year festivities in the heart of the city. The male group have been demarcated by their North African ethnicity and refugee status. Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel has branded the attacks as ‘disgusting’ – whilst reports are also suggesting that similar incidents took place in Hamburg and Stuttgart under the same conditions.

Germany was thought to have set a precedent for dealing with the waves of migrants fleeing from Northern Africa and the Middle East throughout 2015. Merkel’s optimistic open-door policy saw a flood of over 1.5 million asylum-seekers entering the country. Although the country was lauded for its seemingly altruistic and humanitarian policies, many citizens have voiced their concerns over both the logistical and cultural implications of such a rapid and sizeable influx of people. Perhaps the acts of terror that took place in Cologne last week signify the pernicious side of such a liberal stance on migration – despite the positive effect it has had on slowing the country’s population decline.

Migration itself may not be the issue, as multicultural cities all across Europe have flourished and ethnic groups have learnt to coexist – although perhaps not always harmoniously, the cultural mix surely makes cities such as Berlin, Paris and London interesting places to live. The crucial factor, as Samuel Huntington warned in 1992, is the speed at which civilisations are being thrust together. He posits that ‘the fault lines between civilisations will be the battle lines of the future’ – it cannot be denied that the culture and ideology of the two civilisations engaged in recent events are inherently based on different values. Whilst those emigrating to Europe understandably require time to assimilate and acclimatise, brazen performances of ideology such as the mistreatment of women cannot be tolerated. For all the advances that feminism has garnered over the past century in western nations, many societies around the world still operate under a patriarchy. Such ingrained beliefs cannot be overturned overnight, nor over a period of years and therefore pre-emptive strategies need to be implemented to ensure that those beginning a new life in Europe are welcomed but also informed about the keystone values of the new nations that they will call home.

Despite this incident only involving a small number of individuals, considering the swathes of people that have made the often treacherous journey to safer shores – pejorative stereotypes are likely to be intensified, creating further tensions.  No one is able to propose an overarching solution or a viable answer to both the accommodation of millions of refugees in Europe, or the inevitable clash of cultures that will ensure. However, following on from the events in Cologne and in the shadow of the terrorist attacks in Paris last November, it brings to question how such differences between civilisations can be addressed and which measures can be implemented to remedy the situation – if any.

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