The mass assaults in Cologne on New Year's Eve, in the shadow of Germany's most historic and beautiful cathedral, are destined to become a defining moment in the immigration debate that is tearing Europe apart. After Cologne, the ugly truth can no longer be ignored. The assailants, described by a senior German official, Ralf Jaeger, as being mainly Arab and North African men, including asylum seekers who arrived in the past year, come from cultures that are deeply misogynistic. Their attitudes toward women are the worst possible fit with Europe's tolerant, sexually egalitarian liberal norms.
A large number of Europe's swift and sudden torrent of newcomers are young, single men, jobless and unmoored. The idea that they can be integrated quickly or easily is just a fantasy.
In Cologne, women reported being attacked by groups of men who surrounded, groped and robbed them (more than 500 criminal complaints have been filed so far). The overwhelmed police were unable to stop the attacks. As one internal police report described the scene, "Women, accompanied or not, literally ran a 'gauntlet' through masses of heavily intoxicated men that words cannot describe."
The Cologne police media department initially described the celebration as "peaceful." As disturbing details began to emerge, police were reluctant to identify the origin of the alleged attackers because of its "politically awkward nature," as one leading German broadcaster put it. The main German TV station took a pass on the story. Henriette Reker, the pro-refugee mayor of Cologne, said there was no evidence that the assailants were "refugees."
Until now, sensitivity to anti-immigrant backlash has prevented honest talk about sexual misconduct among immigrant men; such talk has been condemned as racist in the past. In Norway, for example, there have been reports that immigrants commit a disproportionate number of rapes, but there was pushback. Mainstream politicians and the media have been terrified of inciting xenophobia and fuelling the rise of the right-wing parties.
But what happened in Cologne was too big to cover up. News has now emerged of similar New Year's Eve assaults in Austria, Switzerland, Finland and Sweden, as well as other German cities. The Viennese police chief has warned women not to go out alone at night. Sweden is now dealing with its own cover-up at a music festival last summer, where young girls were assaulted by hundreds of mostly Afghan men. As the official in charge of the festival's policing told a local news source, "We sometimes dare not to say how it is because we think it might play into the hands of the [right-wing] Sweden Democrats."
European women aren't the only victims. Female asylum-seekers fare much worse. They are routinely subjected to sex trafficking, forced marriage, rape and assault at the hands of smugglers, male asylum-seekers and their own husbands. Some barricade themselves in shelters to ward off sexual attacks.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has adopted a tough new line, saying that assaults will not be tolerated and that criminals could be deported. Under current law, nobody can make the newcomers go home unless they are convicted of extremely serious crimes. And without serious new border controls, nobody can stop more men from coming.
In Norway and other places, authorities have introduced sex-education classes to inform newcomers that sexual assault is not acceptable. You get the sense it's going to be an uphill climb. "Men have weaknesses and when they see someone smiling it is difficult to control," one young Eritrean migrant told The New York Times. In his country, he explained, "If someone wants a lady he can just take her and he will not be punished," at least not by the police.
Yet even now, some of Europe's liberal humanitarians are still in deep denial. In an interview with Der Spiegel, Cologne's mayor expressed genuine shock that so many immigrant men do not act like German men. What's needed, Ms. Reker said, is more language and integration courses, to give them a better grasp of German culture (which begs the question of whether they are interested in grasping it). As for how to behave at public festivals, she thinks pictograms might help.
There are other solutions, but they might be more difficult. Refuse asylum to single men (as Canada has done). Deport the ones who've already arrived. Choose who comes. Don't choose people who can't tell the difference between a kiss and rape.
As for avoiding a right-wing backlash, it's way too late. After years of official lies and cover-ups, it's already here.