Friday, January 15, 2016

Chaos in Cologne

The chaos in the streets of Cologne on New Year's Eve is provoking lots of second thoughts about permitting large numbers of refugees into Germany and elsewhere in Europe.  The police expected, and prepared for, the usual, and when the unusual happened, they made a series of bad decisions which escalated the situation.  Not good.

It's easy enough to see the problem of a clash of cultures.  But it's not as if the countries that young men are from traditionally allow drunken, rowdy behavior and mass attacks on women.  It's the lack of culture, the sudden upheaval, the joy of being out of danger and the lack of a sense of boundaries in the new place that put all in danger.  It is easy to assume that, having offered asylum, all will be grateful and behavior in the "right" way.  Most have -- there are a million refugees in Germany, for example, a some hundreds that mobbed the New Year's Eve crowd.  To blame the whole for the bad behavior of a few is always a bad idea.  But the point is that it demonstrates that the assumption -- be grateful, be proper -- is not sufficient.

What else has to be considered?

First, what is the history in Germany or the other host countries of treating people from the Middle East who have settled there?  Are they well-integrated into the culture?  Are they connected to the new arrivals?  This kind of history is crucial for beginning to think about what will happen next.  A well-integrated immigrant group can quickly help fellow immigrants connect -- the "Soviet" era Jewish immigrants in New York, for example, have been stalwarts in integrating others from "Russia."

Second, what is the history of upheaval from which people were fleeing?  What kind of behaviors did they see and participate in or suffer from?  In periods of upheaval, people see and do all kinds of things that have to do with cultural traditions and everything to do with the struggles for power, survival and hegemony.

Third, what is the setting into which people are welcomed?  Are they able to start to work, to learn the language, to develop a future?  Are they in refugee camps?  What are the camps like?  The more unstable and marginal the situation of the refugees, the more chaos can be expected.

These are only some of the serious questions that have to be answered before predictions can be made or judgements of behavior reached.  The crisis is serious, the chaos a symptom that must be taken seriously.  Using one incident to set policy, without a thorough assessment of its context and meaning, is shortsighted and can only aggravate the larger global situation in which we find ourselves.

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