Are we big enough to handle the facts?
For more than a week now, European media have been reporting on the New Year’s Eve assaults in the German city of Cologne where more than four hundred reports of assaults were filed, roughly forty percent of which alleging sexual assault. According to testimonials, more than one thousand men have gathered in front of the railway station and the cathedral, and then proceeded to surround groups of women after which sexual abuse and robbing took place.
What happened next was that nothing happened. And when it did finally happen, public statements of the local police, media, city major, interior ministry of North Rhine-Westphalia state and chancellor herself were met with the outrage by the population and have sparked both the anti-immigration protests by the far-right group Pegida and the anti-Pegida protests.
Now, what interests me here is the dynamics of the story unraveling and the attitude of state’s officials which seem to me to be in a great discrepancy with the dynamics and the attitude of the public and those affected.
I see the actions of officials as overly paternalistic and which in the end resulted in the protests and clashes with the police. If some policy is paternalistic, we say that its creators believe that they know what is in the best interest of those affected. From all the news that came out, it was easy to get the idea that the public in Germany was highly anxious, prone to conflict and unable to deal with the ugly facts about the background of the attackers. Quite contrary, I believe that this attitude doesn’t originate in the public and then gets mediated to the officials but that officials are also able to stir the emotions and cause outrage by their wrong presumptions about the capability of public to handle the facts. Consequently, they did not come out with the information until the public unrest took place. Looking at the lack of the information in the first week after the assaults took place, it is extremely easy to understand why the public was infuriated about the perceived protectionist attitude towards the attacker’s background. Finally, the majority of suspects did indeed show to be of an immigrant background. Even though the focus remained on the background status of the attackers and the issues of sexual violence in general, there is another dimension of this conflict we ought to look at.
That reminds me of the parents trying to carefully explain to their teenage kid that Santa Claus doesn’t exist
To illustrate the discrepancy, let’s imagine the same situation but in it’s ideal form, the one where the state’s officials did not employ the protectionist and paternalistic stance over the things that happened in Cologne. So, the assaults take place. There is a lack of police intervention. As the police is an agent of state and under control of interior ministry, it is wrong to put the direct blame on the police and immediately fire the head of the police department. This symbolic move is only crippling for the activities of the police department during the days of crisis. Next, the attackers’ background should’ve been made public but not focused on. The main focus of the investigation should be the fact that the criminal activity took place and the process that follows it. By blurring the information flow, authorities wrongly assumed that they were protecting the public while the more likely scenario is that the public could be mature enough to judge the facts on their own. Paternalistic approach, in this situations, reminds me of the parents trying to carefully explain to their teenage kid that Santa Claus doesn’t exist while the kid has already known for years in which shelf the presents were stored before the Christmas Eve. Likewise, I think that we should be mature enough to handle the facts about the events taking place in our cities.