COLOGNE, GERMANY: MASS ATTACKS FUEL XENOPHOBIA

By Summer Bales
Staff Writer

In Cologne, Germany the year 2015 ended with an incident of mass sexual assaults, highlighting a need for greater international focus on formulating a working plan for the migrant crisis in Europe. Amidst the New Year’s Eve festivities, hundreds of men gathered in Cologne’s main train station; the congregation soon escalated into a chaotic frenzy in which several women were sexually assaulted. Ninety women came forth to report being attacked (Shubert). The horrific violation of women’s rights incited fear across Germany, and the public called for justice against the attackers. Additionally, the circumstance brought implications of Arab refugees threatening national security to the forefront of political discussion.

In their reports, the women recounted being groped, robbed, and even raped as they passed through throngs of drunken men. They described their attackers as men appearing to be of mainly “North African and Arab origin.” While crossing the central plaza in the train station, the women were suddenly surrounded by onslaughts of drunken men armed with fireworks. These attacks in Cologne were a brutal violation of the bodies and human rights of these women. Equally troubling was the surprising lack of police presence, leaving the victims unprotected (Chambers).

The preliminary response to these sexual assaults was underwhelming. Authorities were initially reluctant to publicly address the incident, and a majority of media outlets failed to cover the disturbing violence until days afterward. Anticipation of public outrage may have been the reason behind the media’s reluctance to divulge the accounts of the violence in Cologne. This delivered a hazy and inadequate public understanding of what had occurred, which has become only slightly clearer in the weeks after the women were attacked. As new information continues to be brought forward, a clearer representation of the disturbing night is being reached. Along with more information comes the troubling implications that public responses to these attacks may hold for the mounting migrant crisis and growing xenophobic sentiment across receiving countries (The Associated Press).

About one week after the attacks, Germany’s Interior Ministry identified thirty-one suspects as “nine Algerians, eight Moroccans, four Syrians, five Iranians, an Iraqi, a Serb, an American and two Germans,” who committed crimes of theft, violence, and sexual assault. Out of the thirty-one suspects, eighteen were confirmed to have applied for asylum in Germany (Smale). The labeling of the suspects as “asylum-seeking Arabs” in the national media inadvertently links immigrants to crime in the eyes of opposition groups, providing them with the fuel to provoke xenophobic sentiments. An unanticipated consequence of a national media focus on the Cologne attacks could be a political setback for advocates lobbying to open national borders. The situation had potential to inflame an already heated debate over the refugee crisis in Germany—a dispute being mirrored across the world.

As a result of the attacks, German political leaders may face increased pressure to readdress national security while managing a migrant crisis that has shown no indication of relenting. The significance of the Cologne attacks extends to a building division, caused by the perceived clash between Western and Islamic culture, a false perception that continues to be propagated by Germany’s far right anti-immigration groups (Yardley).

The concept of a morally backward population that is incapable of assimilating into European society is a narrative that Muslims have outspokenly tried to dispel, and anti-immigration groups have leapt on in Germany and around Europe. Muslims in Germany have spoken out against the attacks, through media outlets such as The New York Times, despite fearing backlash. Days after the attacks, right-winged extremists led an “Anti-Islamization” demonstration in Leipzig. Members of Austria’s Freedom Party are advocating closing their borders to refugees in the wake of the unrest caused by the Cologne attacks. These are just some of the examples that reflect the reverberation of the attacks in Germany across Europe’s political sphere (Yardley).

In the wake of the attacks in Cologne, German leaders are faced with the task of detaching these increasingly xenophobic sentiments from the need to address the pressing refugee crisis. The burgeoning issues regarding immigration policy and xenophobic sentiments, that have been silenced for so long, have finally burst into political discussion. The need for direct attention to the disentanglement of these issues is echoed by Alexander Betts, director of the Refugee Studies Center at Oxford. “That the great fear is the fear of Islam,” says Betts, as he explains that the reluctance to address the “elephant in the room” is creating a void being filled by anti-immigration groups, who are able to voice their ‘concerns’ without being refuted. However, the Cologne attacks have presented a situation will prove too significant to ignore; it is already being discussed frankly and openly in the German political sphere (Yardley).

In response, political leaders in Germany have begun to publicly address the situation and assess the validity of cultural and religious implications in relation to immigration decisions. One such response, given by German Justice Minister Heiko Maas, has already warned against diminishing the complex immigration debate to a correlation between refugees and sexual assault. Rather, he pushes the public and opposition groups to evaluate the facts of the situation rather than harboring and perpetuating irrational fears of threat to national and personal security. These fears have the dangerous potential to develop into lasting prejudices, that could cloud the immigration discourse and prevent refugees from receiving the help they need (Shubert).

The migrant crisis has by no means reached a resolution; over one million refugees entered Germany last year, many coming from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Neighboring nations in the Middle East have accepted a majority of the refugees, stretching population capacities and putting political pressure on Europe to assist the remaining millions of displaced individuals. In the face of unceasing flows of refugee and asylum seekers, the response to the sexual attacks in Cologne is crucial in establishing a precedent for handling crime without condemning the millions of others seeking refuge. The shock of the Cologne attacks forces a decision that policy makers, leaders, and individuals must address: whether these instances of violence will stoke the fear of outsiders into separatism, or if the building divisions between perceptions of cultures will be disseminated.

Works Cited

Betts, Alexander, and Paul Collier. “Help Refugees Help Themselves.” Foreign Affairs. The Council of Foreign Relations, Dec. 2015. Web. 15 Jan. 2016.

Chambers, Madeline. “Germans Shaken By Mass Attacks On Women In Cologne At New Year.” The World Post. The Huffington Post and Berggruen Institute, 5 Jan. 2016. Web. 12 Jan. 2016.

“Cologne Attacks: Germans Left Feeling Vulnerable.” BBC News. BBC News, 10 Jan. 2016. Web. 15 Jan. 2016.

Higgins, Andrew. “Norway Offers Migrants a Lesson in How to Treat Women.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 19 Dec. 2015. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.

Shubert, Atika, Tiim Hume, and Carol Jordan. “Cologne: Reports of New Year’s Sex Assaults in Cologne Fuel German Migrant Debate.” CNN. CNN, 6 Jan. 2016. Web. 12 Jan. 2016.

Smale, Alison, Victor Homola, and Katarina Johannsen. “18 Asylum Seekers Are Tied to Attacks on Women in Germany.” New York Times. N.p., 9 Jan. 2016. Web. 12 Jan. 2016.

The Associated Press. “German Muslims Condemn Cologne Attacks, Fear Consequences.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 06 Jan. 2016. Web. 20 Jan. 2016.

Yardley, Jim. “Sexual Attacks Widen Divisions in European Migrant Crisis.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 13 Jan. 2016. Web. 20 Jan. 2016.

Image by Jannik Nitz

The Lady: Assessing Aung San Suu Kyi’s Commitment to Democracy in Burma

By Ariana Criste
Staff Writer

The National League for Democracy (NLD), a political party in the Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar led by Aung San Suu Kyi, swept the polls in the mid-November elections–the first open election in Myanmar since the nineteen nineties. This election is a historical landmark for Myanmar, which was previously under the leadership of an authoritarian military junta. A momentous and long overdue victory, these elections mark the beginning of the transition away from the iron grip of the ousted military junta to the promising future of the NLD.

Aung San, Myanmar’s champion of democracy, spent fifteen years under house arrest and was only released five years ago. She is a Nobel Peace Laureate and has drawn praise domestically and internationally for her grace and poise during her fifteen years under house arrest, which she underwent for her involvement as a protest leader in protests against the military junta. As perhaps the most famed political prisoner in the world with a streak of defiance, many look to The Lady, as she is commonly referred to, in hopes that she will address and find solutions to the communal violence and ethnic tensions that Myanmar is facing right now.

Indeed, ethnic conflict within the country is at a critical point. The ethno-religious minority that is native to the Rakhine state of Myanmar, the Rohingyas, willingly face unsafe conditions to flee by boat for neighboring countries in hopes that they will be welcomed and gain some sort of recognition from these countries. Since 2012, tens of thousands of Rohingyas have been killed in communal violence fueled by anti-Muslim sentiments and carried out by the majority group of Burmese Buddhists, including extremist Buddhist Nationalists in the country. Amnesty International has referred to the Rohingya people as “the most persecuted refugees in the world,” and they are a stateless people who are disenfranchised. As a result of this marginalization, tens of thousands of Rohingyas have decided to flee their home to seek better conditions elsewhere.

Aung San’s silence on the plight of the Rohingyas has drawn international criticism. In the past, The Lady has rejected the view that the crimes against the Rohingya constitute ethnic cleansing. She has also said to not “forget that violence has been committed by both sides,” and told international media to not “exaggerate” the situation. The only Rohingya-related issue that she has taken a stance upon is the two-child policy that some provinces in Myanmar implemented for Rohingyas that she believes are discriminatory.

The forecast for Rohingyas under the NLD does not seem optimistic. Aung San’s silence echoes the majority opinion that the Rohingya are Bengali immigrants or foreign aliens. Much of the base of support for the NLD comes from the Buddhist extremists that are carrying out the attacks against the Rohingya population.

For what are likely reasons of political expedience, it is unlikely that Aung San or the NLD will address the Rohingya issue. They are navigating a post-authoritarian political landscape where the military stills plays an active role in politics and will hold seats in the government even after the transition between parties occurs. If they showed active support for the Rohingyas or other Muslim ethnic minorities, it is likely that the loss of perceived political legitimacy would play into the interests of the military.

The NLD is walking a narrow line as it tries to move forward with the transition towards democratization in Myanmar. External forces are vying to hasten or slow this transition. Political actors, some domestic and some international, have varied expectations for the party. The NLD must balance outcries from NGOs about the Rohingya crisis, especially considering the media attention on the issue right now. They also have to deal with external imposition of ideals of democracy from the West and from investors in the state who may not have a complete idea of the situation domestically, and who have expressed discontent with the pace that Myanmar is democratizing at. They must maintain political legitimacy against a military regime that actively tries to detract from the legitimacy of their leadership. To do this requires the NLD to narrowly maintain viewpoints and policies that do not alienate their political base, much of which holds very anti-Muslim sentiments.

In this light it is unlikely that, under Aung San, the Rohingya peoples will see their cause furthered. While this provides hardly any consolation, it is also unlikely that violence from an institutionalized, state-led level will worsen. It is very probable that the state of Myanmar’s transition to democracy will be a positive force in the lives of the Rohingyas and other ethnic or religious minorities in the state. All of Myanmar will see tangible benefits from the transition to democracy from the previously brutal military government, and the NLD will likely lessen the active oppression on the populace that was experienced under the previous government. As state corruption and brutality decrease, the Rohingyas should experience marked improvement in their situation. This prediction must be taken with a degree of reservation, however, because it is unlikely that they will gain true state recognition and rights in the near future. This is not politically feasible in the current climate, which is why noted human rights champion Aung San and the NLD are avoiding the issue. It seems that, for this marginalized and persecuted group, the National League of Democracy under Aung San will not be a shining beacon of human rights advancement. Still, with Myanmar’s slow path of democratization, the Rohingyas can expect gradual increases in their rights and privileges and, hopefully, integration and acceptance into Burmese society.

Image by Rob Beschizza

 

THE CUTTING, THE VIRUS, THE FISTULA


Joyce Sunday
Staff Writer

I can never forget the girl, how the women held her down with the sharp blade ready to cut off her female genitalia, and her innocence. As the blade started coming towards her direction, she began to struggle, cry, and scream. All those tears fell on the deaf ears of the women strongly holding her down, spreading her legs wide open. I couldn’t watch, so I left the room, though her shouting pain echoed in the silence. After a few minutes, she was taken out of the room by her mother, her legs tied. She had been abused, but now was rewarded with gifts because the experience had made her a woman. This was the first time I ever experienced the female genital cutting, or rather what my society will call the “womanhood initiation ritual” of a five-year old Nigerian girl.

Female genital cutting is the “partial or complete removal of the clitoris”, or inflicting of other injuries to the female genitalia. Girls are often subjected to cutting before they reach the age of puberty, though cutting still may occur anytime between puberty and marriage as well. There are three major types of female circumcision: type I is the clitoridectomy, type II is the excision, and type III is the infibulation. The clitoridectomy involves either the partial or whole removal of the clitoris organ. The excision type is the partial or whole removal the clitoris organ, as well as the inner labia, which may be accomplished with or without removing the labia majora. The infibulation, which narrows the vaginal opening by creating a seal, is the most severe type of female circumcision and is performed by cutting and repositioning the labia. After this procedure the two sides of the vulva are stitched together to cover the urethra and prevent continuous bleeding.

In most countries circumcision practices are performed by untrained operators who have limited understanding of the female anatomy, and also often lack surgical skills. The clitoris has about eight thousand sensory nerve endings, and it is located at a very sensitive neurovascular area of the female genitalia. Any attempt to remove or alter a tiny amount of tissue can cause serious medical and physical problems. Certain medical complications like severe pain, prolonged bleeding, and hemorrhage can cause death or immense shock for the victims of female circumcision. In some cases, while the victims are still alive, prolonged bleeding can cause severe anemia which can affect the development of the girls. Some infections such as tetanus, ulcers, septicemia and gangrene have been encountered after the circumcision procedures as well. In third world countries especially, unexperienced operators perform surgery with unsterilized instruments, leading to the spread of the human immunodeficiency virus, Hepatitis B and other blood transmitted infections. The infibulation is the most severe type of circumcision, and can cause long-term health complications because it affects urine drainage, as well the flow of the menstrual blood through the vagina. Pelvic inflammatory diseases that arise from infibulation can lead to infertility, pelvic pain and painful periods (dysmenorrhea). Yet another medical condition that can arise from circumcision is keloid formation, which may cause pain, itching and disfigurement of the female genitalia.

Intercourse, pregnancy, and childbirth can be more difficult for circumcised women. Female genital cutting reduces the size of the vagina, making it difficult for its victims to have sex, or give birth, without being in pain or having their genitalia skin ripped apart. During birth, the head of the fetus may be impeded by the stitched up area of the genitalia, resulting in intense contractions that can cause perineal tears. When the woman has a weak contraction and the delivery of the baby’s head is detained, the fetus may die. This may additionally result in necrosis of the genital septum, which is the separating of the bladder and the vagina, ultimately leading to vesicovaginal fistula (VVF). Vesicovaginal fistula, also known as a type of female urogenital fistula (UGF), is a condition which allows the continuous discharge of urine without any control.

Female genital mutilation affects millions of women worldwide, and thankfully, a known reversible surgery exits. One by one, female genital circumcision survivors are being cut for a second time, but now to reclaim what they lost. The “defibulation” procedure, also known as female circumcision reversal operation, is not performed by many surgeons. Luckily, a select few doctors, such as Dr. Marci Lee Bowers of the San Mateo Surgery Center in California, is an American gynecologic surgeon that has performed this rare surgery on over one hundred patients. Most of her patients are women born in Africa, but now living in the United States. She was the first surgeon in the United States to ever carry out this reverse surgery. According to Dr. Bowers, after the reverse surgery, the clitoris is still found even in the worst cases of female circumcision. When the scar tissue is opened and the mutilation is reversed, the female genitalia can be restored, which will bring back the sensuality of the clitoris. Despite these efforts, there is still a need for more research and investment to provide additional surgical techniques that would be accessible to the victims of female genital mutilation.

Image by Jackson