A Feminist View of Cologne 'The Current Outrage Is Very Hypocritical'

Germany's leading feminist, Alice Schwarzer, says the sexual attacks in Cologne make it necessary to look closer at Muslim immigration. Prominent feminist Anne Wizorek disagrees. SPIEGEL brought them together for a joint interview.
German feminists Alice Schwarzer and Anne Wizorek square off on the recent violence against women in Cologne.

German feminists Alice Schwarzer and Anne Wizorek square off on the recent violence against women in Cologne.

Foto: Monika Keiler/ DER SPIEGEL

Alice Schwarzer, 73, the grande dame of German feminism, and Anne Wizorek, 34, a prominent member of the new generation of feminists, often have different views about the direction the women's movement should take. For decades, Schwarzer -- as publisher of Emma, the country's highly influential women's magazine -- has been at the forefront of women's issues. In more recent years, a younger generation of feminists, led by Wizorek, has sought to challenge Schwarzer's preeminence.

Wizorek herself gained prominence in early 2013 when she launched the hashtag #aufschrei , or outcry, along with a fresh debate highlighting everyday sexism suffered by women in Germany and elsewhere.

Both women are concerned about recent developments in Cologne that saw mass sexual violence against women perpetrated by Muslim immigrants . The following is an excerpt from a combative interview with SPIEGEL in which the two share their at times divergent views on the violence and the consequences.

SPIEGEL: Ms. Schwarzer, Ms. Wizorek, what happened in Cologne on New Year's Eve? Was it a particularly extreme example of sexism or the consequence of failed immigration policies?

Wizorek: The events were terrible and, given the scale, a new phenomenon. That's why we need to take a very precise look at what happened. I really hope that the perpetrators are caught. The ensuing debate, though, unfortunately has had the wrong focus: It is wrong to only speak about sexualized violence if it is committed by migrants or refugees.

Schwarzer: The debate over sexual violence has re-emerged as a result of that night in Cologne. Even Germany's justice minister, who for years allowed necessary reforms to tighten Germany's rape laws torot in a drawer, has pulled them out again. But when you only speak using generalizations, you run the danger of denying the specific. In recent decades, millions of people have come to us from cultural groups within which women have absolutely no rights. They do not have a voice of their own and they are totally dependent on their fathers, brothers or husbands. That applies to North Africa and that applies to large parts of the Middle East. It isn't always linked to Islam. But since the end of the 1970s, at the beginning of the revolution in Iran under Khomenei, we have experienced a politicization of Islam. From the beginning, it had a primary adversary: the emancipation of women. With more men now coming to us from this cultural sphere, and some additionally brutalized by civil wars, this is a problem. We cannot simply ignore it.

Wizorek: But it is also wrong to look only at the origin of the perpetrators. When I see the kinds of people that are now jumping into the debate over women's rights, it also includes, among others, the same politicians who, during the #aufschrei debate in 2013, said that women shouldn't be so demanding. Now that men with immigration backgrounds have committed sexual assaults, it is being instrumentalized in order to stigmatize them as a group. I think that is racist.

SPIEGEL: Do you consider Ms. Schwarzer to be a racist?

Wizorek: It is racist to act as though it is only immigrant men who (commit sexual assault). I would really like to see a more nuanced debate about sexual violence. Such violence is a problem for all of society, for all genders, and it cannot be allowed to become the standard in gender debates that only male migrants are considered to be those responsible.

Schwarzer: It is always the right move to take a closer look. Of course we in Europe also have epidemic, structural sexual violence. Violence is always the dark core of dominance. The men who are now coming to us from Islamic cultural circles are, of course, shaped by conditions there, which are still much more antiquated than here. That's a problem that we have ignored for far too long. In the name of a false tolerance, we have accepted that women are kept at home like prisoners and are forcibly married.

Wizorek: But now we have reached the core of the issue. We have to engage an integration debate, not an exclusionary debate.

Schwarzer: But who's leading an exclusionary debate?

Wizorek: The majority society in Germany.

Schwarzer: I'd like to tell you something about majority society. Majority society has really been taken for a ride over the past 25 years. There was and there is a growing uneasiness within majority society as a result of this false tolerance. Parallel societies have emerged. A young woman can no longer go through certain neighborhoods without one of the young men shouting, "You slut!" Friends of mine who live in Kreuzberg (eds. note: a neighborhood in Berlin with a large Muslim population) have told me about it.

Wizorek: I live in Berlin and I have never heard that in Kreuzberg.

Schwarzer: Then you've been lucky. But if we keep denying that there are problems with some male immigrants, then we will just drive the people into the arms of the right-wing populists. Without the ignorance or the trivialization on the part of all the political parties, there would be no Pegida (eds. note: a xenophobic movement based in Dresden) or Alternative for Germany (eds. note: a new, and growing right-wing populist party in Germany).

Wizorek: I am not denying that the patriarchal structures are stronger in some countries than in Germany. But the core of the problem is not Islam, it is patriarchy.

Schwarzer: Now you too are starting to interpret the Koran. I have to tell you: I think that's pointless and I've never indulged in it myself. If I read the Bible, I can also find a few harsh verdicts. Every religion can be abused. We're not talking here about religion and faith. We are talking about the politicization of Islam, and, by the way, it is first and foremost exerting pressure on the majority of peaceful Muslims who live here in Germany.

SPIEGEL: If this isn't about origins, then how would you explain what happened in Cologne, Ms. Wizorek?

Wizorek: Since it is still unclear whether this was an organized crime, I can't give a conclusive assessment. In principle, though, attacks in groups are no new phenomenon. When large groups of men come together and alcohol is involved, women are often the subject of harassment. That happens in football stadiums, during Karneval in Cologne or at Oktoberfest in Munich. I am against focusing on just this group of perpetrators just because of their origins.

Protesters stand in front of the Cologne central station, where sexual attacks were perpetrated on a broad scale on New Year's Eve. The sign reads, "No means no! That's our law. Stay away from our bodies!"

Protesters stand in front of the Cologne central station, where sexual attacks were perpetrated on a broad scale on New Year's Eve. The sign reads, "No means no! That's our law. Stay away from our bodies!"

Foto: Oliver Berg/ dpa

Schwarzer: Do you know what I just thought of, Anne? You were born in East Germany at the beginning of the 1980s, right?

Wizorek: Yes.

Schwarzer: It's entirely OK that you missed certain things. In the 1960s and 1970s among the leftests in the West, one of the leading arguments against feminism was that it was only a subordinate issue. That's what people said back then. The main issue was the class struggle.

Wizorek: I am familiar with the discussion.

Schwarzer: As soon as you opened your mouth and said the word woman, you were beaten down with the argument that you were betraying the class struggle. There are many poignant writings in which feminists first write pages about their class standpoint before getting to their actual issue. What was then known as class warfare is today called anti-racism. The threat of being accused of racism gave birth to false tolerance. Once, about 20 years ago, a police officer in Cologne told me, "Ms. Schwarzer, 70 to 80 percent of the rapists in Cologne are Turkish." I was very upset and said: "Then good God, why don't you bring the issue up?" Because only after you call a problem by name can you change it. And then he said, no way, that's not politically opportune. So you see, the police have long been extremely frustrated by these hush-ups. I think that's changing now, and that's a good thing.

Wizorek: But that's just another version of this terrible: "One should also be able to say …!"

Schwarzer: No, it's the opposite. People aren't stupid. They saw what was happening at the Cologne central station. A lawless space was created in the middle of a city of over a million. That has to be addressed and it has to be done so in a sober-minded way.

SPIEGEL: But does Ms. Wizorek not have a point when she asks why the conservative Christian Democrats suddenly discover a passion for women's issues right when there are problems with refugees?

Schwarzer: That's not a partisan question. The same is true of the center-left Social Democrats. It applies to all. The current outrage is very hypocritical. But motives haven't been interesting to me for a long time now. I'm more interested in what someone does. If the government now finally tightens rape laws, all the better.

SPIEGEL: Is it not a huge setback for the women's movement when hundreds of thousands of young men from male-dominated societies come to Germany in a single year?

Schwarzer: I can't just go up to people standing in the snow at the German-Austrian border and ask them: "Are you an Islamist?" When people flee to us from war zones, we first have to help. But we also have to be quick to look very closely at who it is that is coming.

Wizorek: Patriarchy also exists here in Germany. The right to asylum cannot be restricted just because people come to Germany from countries that represent more sexist attitudes.

SPIEGEL: How should politicians respond to the events in Cologne? Do we need rules that allow for the faster deportation of migrants, as the conservatives are now demanding?

Wizorek: This is not the debate that we need to be having. Perpetrators clearly need to be punished, but the problem of sexualized violence has already existed here for some time and can't simply be "deported." Doing so doesn't solve the fundamental problem. Instead, Germany needs to tighten its laws governing sexual offences. We need to establish more crisis centers for the victims of violence. There are too few of them and people who work there are often poorly paid or are volunteers.

SPIEGEL: Could the events in Cologne have been prevented with tighter rape laws? The primary issue in the debate over those laws is the firmness with which a woman must say that she does not want to have sex. When it comes to Cologne, you really can't accuse the women of not having shown that clearly enough.

Schwarzer: Even stricter rape laws wouldn't have done anything to stop the crimes in Cologne. Groping, a trivializing word, isn't even a prosecutable offense yet.

Wizorek: This is why I am calling for sexual harassment to be made a criminal offence. But there is also the fundamental problem that it is always assumed that women want all of that. Our world is strongly shaped by hypersexualized images of female bodies that are presented as being available. At the same time, we still haven't found language with which we can speak about intimacy. That also contributes to a climate in which assault gets normalized.

SPIEGEL: Ms. Schwarzer, what consequences will Cologne have?

Schwarzer: We need to finally be proactive in enlightening people from Islamic cultural groups. And this applies to immigrants already here as well as to current refugees. The German constitution stands above the Sharia. Schools need to offer classes on gender equality. You also have to offer an alternative to young men with a penchant for violence.

Wizorek: Only the young men? Education is important for all genders.

Schwarzer: Of course, because you have to tell girls what rights they have and you must stand by them as they assert themselves. We have to go into the relevant neighborhoods and do something to counter the campaigning Islamists. We failed to do that during the last 25 years. We also can't be naïve when it comes to the refugees. Men who commit violence should of course be deported to their countries of origin. We already have enough problems here and we don't need to import anymore.

Wizorek: Sexualized violence existed before the refugees -- it has not been imported.

Schwarzer: I know that because I have been fighting against it since 1995, just like all the women SPIEGEL likes to call the "old feminists." For us feminist pioneers, fighting sexual violence, which until then was totally silenced -- be it abuse, rape within marriage or sex killings -- has always been given top priority.

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