Footprints: The growing divide in Germany

Updated January 22, 2016


HIPPY beggars asking for LSD or food; punks and drunks tumbling here and there; Roma girls offering flowers to men for 50 cents; cops questioning an almond-eyed youth with dark black hair as a trio plays an oriental tune in front of the Dom; a handful of Iranians and Chinese protesting against their governments in a city that flaunts its Gay Pride and vibrant Karneval parades.

As if oblivious to the ‘rape culture shock’ that shook Cologne on New Year’s Eve, paupers and shoppers swarm the square at the city’s central station as usual. Hardly anyone in the market is aware that Pakistanis were attacked by far-right hooligans recently.

And even if they knew, they would not care — at least that is how Basharat Mehmood, a Pakistani running a fashion store in Cologne, feels.

Living in Cologne since 1978, Mehmood himself is more worried about his daughters whom he has, for the first time in his life in Germany, strictly advised against going out alone late at night. “We are ourselves stunned. How can we blame Germans who never knew such things as groping, molesting or gang rape?” he says while putting down a copy of Al Fazal that he was reading.

Mehmood, 55, who deals with many women, young and old, has observed just a slight “reservation” among his German customers.

However, the events of New Year’s Eve haven’t yet dampened the spirit of the Kölner Karneval, Cologne’s grand street festival, that starts next month. But if anything goes wrong then, as feared, Mehmood thinks life would be very hard for Muslims like him.

For Mehmood, Cologne is like his own pind; he has nothing but praise for the city and its inhabitants. “It is very shameful what those Arabs did to Germany, a country which is actually following the values of Islam and that offers religious freedom and a peaceful life to everyone.” In his opinion, Muslim men come to Europe with their “hansi tau phansi” mentality which they need to change.

Sumair, a Pakistani student who was in Cologne on New Year’s Eve, says he hung his head in shame when he saw a German girl burst into tears while escaping the approaching hands, as a group of Indian and Pakistani men, taking advantage of the hullabaloo, teased her like totally “hungry beasts”. Having enjoyed the last two New Year’s celebrations in Cologne, the violent mob was a shock. “A few guys from the gangs of Arabic-speaking and curly-haired youths would engage women in an objectionable way then others would snatch their bags and mobile phones. It appeared they used the harassment as a distraction, and the real purpose was mass robbery,” he said.

Though himself a practising Muslim, Sumair thinks Muslim cultural values are a barrier to the community’s integration in Europe. He dismisses racism in Germany but feels his peers view him as coming from another part of the world. “We are sexually frustrated societies who enjoy all evils in private and keep women in veils, and when we see one out in public we can’t control our lust.”

Both Sumair and Mehmood squirm when they hear the local media blaring ‘Muslim rapists welcome’, but are baffled as to how this impression can be dispelled. While Mehmood feels that if refugees are taught the Quran with translation, they will never commit such despicable acts, Sumair argues that Germany’s anger is reflected in a familiar way.

“We all scare our kids by talking of ‘Pathan kidnappers’ when we come across an Afghan refugee in Karachi,” he says.

For Ayma, a Pakistani woman in hijab, “all migrants can’t be blamed for the wrongs of a few. There are good people like this man in a chic jacket”.

She points to the picture of a Syrian who rescued a German girl from the molesting mob.

Many analysts, however, are now very sceptical about the ‘welcome refugee sentiment’. Graham Lucas, head of Deutsche Welle’s ‘Southeast Asia Magazine’, fears that the repercussions of the Cologne assaults will be far-reaching. “There needs to be a concerted effort by all stakeholders including the refugees themselves to bring back calm and reason into this debate.” Condemning the attacks on Pakistanis, he says, “there needs to be rigorous legal action and prosecution of those inciting hatred on the far right. There must also be a clampdown on migrants or refugees who break the law in Germany. There should be quick action to expel any refugees who flaunt our values and break our laws.”

Lucas cites mistrust in the Muslim culture as the reason behind the rising disapproval of migrants. “Unfortunately, the way women are treated in some conservative Islamic states is a disgrace and an affront to Western values. We are deeply troubled by the existence of violent misogyny in some Islamic states. Women have a vital role to play in society and they should have exactly the same rights as men everywhere in the world.”

Many Kölners are gearing up for Cologne’s fifth season of the Kölner Karneval that will attract millions of fun-loving people. Muslim migrants and asylum seekers hope nothing untoward will happen.

Published in Dawn, January 22nd, 2016