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February 2016
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April 2016

Molenbeek 10 Years Ago

10 years ago, a Belgian Muslim journalist named Hind Fraihi went undercover (f) in Molenbeek and wrote a book reporting on the influence of radical Islam there:

Hind Fraihi, a Muslim and journalist who posed as a sociology graduate student, found that she could easily buy extremist literature urging people to take up arms to fight nonbelievers. She met young men being lured from lives of petty crime to violent jihad by local imams. And she interviewed a sheik who sent young men to a military training camp in southern Belgium’s scenic Ardennes and who was recruiting people to fight in Afghanistan and Chechnya.

The response, she recalls: 'People told me I was exaggerating, that I was engaging in sensationalism, and nobody did anything to contain the phenomenon.'

Sound familiar?

 


Migrants Are Literally Impoverishing Germany

In 2015, thousands of Georgians joined the throngs streaming unchecked into Germany and filed claims for political asylum. The skeptical among us asked the simple question: "Why Georgians?" Georgia is a stable, peaceful, representative democracy. It has close ties to the West, and its level of economic development and human-rights record are much better than most of the countries in the region.

So were these thousands of Georgians all journalists, activists, and ethnic minorities fleeing oppression? Whenever skeptics like me asked the question, belligerently naive Germans typically responded in the same simple-minded way they did when asked about all the Pakistanis, Indians, Moroccans, Algerians, and Nigerians: they pointed to reports about scattered human-rights abuses in these countries, and immediately jumped to the conclusion that everyone claiming asylum from these countries must be among the groups facing oppression.

After all, everyone who entered Germany in 2015 was a refugee. And refugees are fleeing war and oppression. Therefore everyone who entered Germany in 2015 was fleeing war and oppression. Anyone who points out the flaw in this syllogism is a neo-Nazi.

Now, of course, we know that the majority of people who entered Germany in 2015 just wanted to relocate to a country with higher living standards. And some had even more sinister motives. Like the Georgians. As Die Welt reports (g) most of the Georgians who claimed asylum are professional burglars operating in organized gangs. They are sent into Germany with a mission: file a bogus asylum claim, and while you wait 8-12 months for it to be decided -- all the while being housed and fed by the German taxpayer -- steal as much stuff as you can from the hapless, naive, clueless Germans. 

These gangs of criminals are certainly part of the reason for the staggering rise in break-ins in Germany -- 2015 saw a whopping 18.1% increase (g) in break-ins in my home state alone. The overwhelmed and undermanned police clear a whopping 15% of these cases. Half of the suspects which are identified are not German citizens. No word on how many of the ones who did have German citizenship also had a 'migration background', but we all know how that goes.

And in my neighborhood, the victims of the break-ins are usually the cool, interesting boutiques that make it so lively. Our new Georgian friends know that mall chain-stores have security out the wazoo, so they target small independent stores. A bespoke women's fashion shop near me was cleaned out a few weeks ago. They stole all the clothes. The next target was Unlicht, a store that sells Gothic and medieval clothes, candles, craft brews, incense, and other assorted oddments for your metal lifestyle. The break-in -- in which the professional thieves stole a 300-kg safe -- caused €12,000 in damages (g) and threatens the future existence of this quirky neighborhood fixture.

Now, it's at least possible that both of these break-ins (and the thousands of others) were committed by Germans. When German public television films a crime drama about them, you can be sure that will be the case. But they typical ethnic German burglar is a junkie looking for a fix, not an organized gang with a truck and the tools and equipment needed to break through locked doors and move 300-kilogram safes. I have a sneaking suspicion that our Caucasian -- or Balkan -- friends are behind these professional, organized crimes, and that all the money and gear is funding vulgar McMansions on the outskirts of Belgrade or Tbilisi.

These migrants aren't just passively impoverishing Germany by filing bogus asylum claims and living on state relief. They're actively stealing wealth from entrepreneurs and shipping it to other countries. Which means now even the smallest boutique can no longer rely on the social trust that makes (made?) Germany such a safe and pleasant place to live. Congratulations, Merkel!


The Unstoppable Decline of the SPD

Tombstone

Politico watches the German Social Democratic Party circle the drain (from 38% of the vote in 2002 to 22% today, with no end in sight):

“Questions of fair distribution of money and resources are no longer at the forefront of social democratic politics,” said Matthias Micus, a political scientist at the University of Göttingen.

“Being ‘left’ the way the SPD understands it today is no longer primarily about economic questions, but much more about cultural issues like gender politics, the protection of minorities, or when it comes to cultural diversity or immigration,” Micus said.

However, he added, the traditional SPD electorate — the working class — does not really care about those topics.

“This has led to an estrangement of the SPD from its traditional electorate,” Micus said.

You don't say.


Ensemble Pygmalion Plays the St. Matthew Passion


La Passion selon St Matthieu de Bach par Raphaël Pichon

One of my first Bach recordings, and one which I still have, is the B Minor Mass performed by Joshua Rifkin and the Bach Ensemble. Rifkin insisted that Bach's choral works were intended to be sung with one singer to a part. The result was light, feathery, transparent. Every other performance I'd hear sounded clogged and soupy by comparison. But haters still reject Rifkin's purism. They insist that although Bach only had limited space and personnel at his disposal, he would probably have welcomed greater forces to perform his choral masterworks, and composed them with this aspiration in mind. And I have to admit, Rifkin's recording often sounds a bit underpowered.

And now Ensemble Pygmalion has come along, a new original-instruments baroque ensemble from France. I had the good fortune to see them live last Thursday in the Cologne Philharmonic, performing the St. Matthew Passion. And a stellar performance it was. The strings sounded crisp and robust for historical instruments, with secure intonation. The chorus was modest -- about 20 singers in all, many of whom peeled off from the group to come to the fore and sing arias. The balance was ideal: Just enough singers to provide a real bite to the choral interjections, but not so many as to obscure contrapuntal lines. The instrumental soloists were all solid, especially the viola da gamba player, who sawed out an electrifying accompaniment. The tempi were crisp but not hasty, pretty much perfectly judged. And the Evangelist was nothing short of stunning, declaiming with absolute conviction.

You can judge for yourself: Directly after performing in Cologne, they did the St. Matthew in Versailles, and French TV has made it available to all on the web.

Trigger warning: I'm about to criticize Bach. Don't clutch your pearls. In the immortal words of Primus, they can't all be zingers. And the St. Matthew, if you ask me, ain't no zinger, at least not all the way through. The second half especially features some long and, if you ask me, pretty tedious arias. Many of the most ingenious ideas -- budding choral fugues, appealing melodies in the obbligato to the Evangelist's recitative -- are cut short by the demands of the text or of forward plot motion before they can really develop. And then comes another seemingly 14-minute setting of 5 lines of charming but mediocre poetry by Picador.

Come on, admit it: You've checked your watch one hour into Part II of the St. Matthew. But not when Pygmalion sings it. The musicianship invested even the tedious stretches with enough verve and energy to keep me awake. And made the many good bits sublime. Their recording of the short masses by Bach is stellar, go buy it now. And if they perform anywhere near you, don't miss them.

 


The Clouseau-Like Incompetence of Belgian Justice

A few paragraphs from a recent New York Times article:

In 2012, two employees at the nuclear plant in Doel quit to join jihadists in Syria, and eventually transferred their allegiances to the Islamic State. Both men fought in a brigade that included dozens of Belgians, including Abdelhamid Abaaoud, considered the on-the-ground leader of the Paris attacks.

One of these men is believed to have died fighting in Syria, but the other was convicted of terror-related offenses in Belgium in 2014, and released from prison last year, according to Pieter Van Oestaeyen, a researcher who tracks Belgium’s jihadist networks. It is not known whether they communicated information about their former workplace to their Islamic State comrades.

At the same plant where these jihadists once worked, an individual who has yet to be identified walked into the reactor No. 4 in 2014, turned a valve and drained 65,000 liters of oil used to lubricate the turbines. The ensuing friction nearly overheated the machinery, forcing it to be shut down. The damage was so severe that the reactor was out of commission for five months.

This almost reads like a parody. "It is not known whether they communicated information about their former workplace to their Islamic State comrades." I'm sure the New York Times writers were chortling with dark humor as they penned this masterpiece of sardonic understatement.

And how does someone who once worked at a nuclear plant, ran off to join murderous jihadists, and then was convicted of "terror offenses" get released from prison in one year? Why, pray tell, was he even let back into the country?

One of the suicide bombers had a long criminal record including the following

His brother, Ibrahim el-Bakraoui, was the lookout for a robbery attempt in January 2010 at a Western Union branch in central Brussels. Surprised by a police patrol, Ibrahim opened fire with a Kalashnikov, hitting a police officer in the leg. As he and his accomplices tried to escape, they crashed their car and were forced to hide in a house in Laeken, the neighborhood where the Bakraoui brothers grew up, before surrendering to police.

Ibrahim was sentenced in August 2010 to nine years in prison for attempted murder and received parole in October 2014. As part of his parole, he was prohibited from leaving the country for longer than a month.

How does someone fire an AK-47 -- favorite weapon of terrorists -- at police during a bank robbery, hitting one cop, and serve only four years in prison?

Four years for attempting to murder a police officer.

Four years.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of mistakes, errors, and missed chances. Really, at some point you get the idea that the Belgian bureaucrats simply don't take the task of ensuring their citizens' safety seriously. A cynical observer might say that every democratic country gets the government it deserves, and if Belgians are incapable of electing a government which can protect them, perhaps they don't deserve protection.

But I'm not that guy. Not yet, at least. I love Belgium and have many friends who live there. But Belgians, instead of mourning and drawing chalk hearts and staging marches against fear, should be doing one thing: expressing their outrage at the idiocy and incompetence of the people who let this utterly preventable bombing happen. 

This isn't the time for peace and love, it's the time for righteous outrage and accountability. Belgians need to put aside their attitude of learned helplessness toward their dysfunctional state and demand brutal reforms. The many Belgian cops and intelligence officials who do care and are doing their jobs properly should start leaking to the press about all the other hundreds of slip-ups they know about. Belgian judges and corrections officers should be interrogated on national television as to why known jihadists and people who have committed terror offenses and tried to kill cops receive such insultingly brief prison sentences.

The people who let this latest attack happen through negligence should be publicly identified, stripped of their offices, and fined thousands of Euros, if not imprisoned. Since devotion to duty obviously isn't doing the job, fear of punishment will have to substitute.

The security of Western Europe depends on it.


Migrant Assaults Back on the Omertà List in Germany, But Not in Australia

After a brief period of honest discussion in January, the mainstream national press has returned to a policy of silence on sexual offenses committed by migrants. Those offenses haven't stopped, of course, but they are now reported on only in local newspapers and websites.

Nevertheless, sites which aggregate these reports point to what is clearly a significant public-safety issue in Germany. If we ever get reliable statistics on sex assaults in Germany in 2015-16 broken down by ethnicity of offender, we will certainly see a large increase driven by assaults and rapes committed by recent migrants. (Which is why those statistics will likely never be collected.)

Since the national German media are ignoring this public-safety issue, Australia has decided to step in. Here's a relatively balanced but critical story from the Australian NewsCorp website:

GERMANY, Sweden and other European countries are facing growing public unrest amid a wave of reports of sexual assaults since the Cologne attacks.

New York-based conservative think tank Gatestone Institute has compiled ashocking list of sexual assaults and rapes by migrants in Germany in just the first two months of the year.

Drawing only from German media reports, the list documents more than 160 instances of rape and sexual assault committed by migrants in train stations,swimming pools and other public places against victims as young as seven.

German police use terms such as “southerners” (südländer), men with “dark skin” (dunkelhäutig, dunklere gesichtsfarbe, dunklem hauttyp) or “southern skin colour” (südländische hautfarbe) to describe the alleged perpetrators.

Authorities across the country have been accused of downplaying the true extent of the problem by suppressing information about migrant-related crimes, ostensibly due to a “lack of public interest”.

Police are also wary of fuelling civil unrest amid a rising number of attacks on migrants and shelters by right-wing vigilante groups. In response, Germans are increasingly turning to social media to spread information.

A German Twitter account, @XYEinzelfall (“individual cases”), has created aGoogle map to track police reports of crimes allegedly committed by migrants across the region. “Cologne was just the tip of the iceberg,” the page says. “Cologne is every day.”...

However, refugee advocates have warned against tarring all migrants with the same brush, noting that the alleged crimes are rare incidents in the context of the enormous number of migrants who have come to Europe.

More than 1.1 million migrants flooded into Germany in 2015 and the country is expecting 3.6 million to arrive by 2020, according to internal government estimates.

UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women Dubravka Šimonović told Timethat “against this background, we are currently speaking about incidents that must be carefully studied to establish any patterns and links”....

The German Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA) announced that migrants committed crimes at the same rate as native Germans.

“It’s becoming clear that at bottom there is a higher absolute number of criminal cases only because of the increase in number of people living here with the arrival of the refugees,” German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said at the time.

Mr de Maizière said he had ordered the report in order to provide proof to “dispel rumours about an increase in criminal acts in Germany”, DW reported.

“The majority [of migrants] do not come here with the intention of committing crimes,” he said. “They come to Germany to find protection and peace.”

The same report, which was based on crime statistics from January to the end of September 2015, noted a “marked spike” in crime at migrant centres, which it attributed to overcrowding.

According to BKA, the majority (67 per cent) of crimes committed by migrants consisted of theft, robbery and fraud, while sex crimes made up less than one per cent....

On Monday, police in the Swedish city of Östersund advised women not to go outdoors alone following a string of public assaults and sex attacks in the past three weeks.

Sweden, which has a population of just under 10 million, took in around 163,000 migrants in 2015, making it by far the most generous on a per capita basis.

National broadcaster SVT reports what police area manager Stephen Jerand described as a “worrying trend” of unprovoked violence on women in public places.

Speaking at a press conference, police said they had never experienced crime of this nature in the small city of Östersund, which has a population of just 44,000.

“This is serious,” Mr Jerand said. “We care about the protection of women and that is why we go out and talk about this.”

Police said there had been six reports of attacks since February 20, including a 10-year-old girl who was molested at a bus station in the centre of the city....

It comes after a poll conducted by Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet found nearly half of all women in the country are now scared to exercise alone at night.

According to the survey, 46 per cent of women aged over 16 felt either “very” or “somewhat” unsafe when they are alone in the dark, compared with 20 per cent of men.

Almost one third said if they were caught by sunset, that they would rather stay at a friend’s house than try to get home alone.

Speaking to the newspaper, 34-year-old Ellinor Andersson said she carried a bunch of keys in her hand at night, ready to strike out at any attacker.

“I would never go running by myself on a Friday or a Saturday night,” she told the paper. Another said she would never go out alone after 7pm.

Earlier this month, the Daily Mail reported of an all-female, bikini-clad group of ‘vigilantes’ called the ‘Groping Guards’, who patrol swimming pools in Sweden to prevent migrants molesting bathers.

“Swimming pools have become prime hunting grounds for gangs of men looking to prey on vulnerable women,” 24-year-old Siri Bernhardsson told the Daily Mail.

“Loads of women here say they have been touched. We are tired of men thinking they can come to Sweden and molest women. We want to teach these boys how to behave and be left in peace to swim without being felt up.

“It happens in train stations and in swimming pools. This should not be the case in 2016 in Sweden.”

In January, it emerged that Swedish authorities had covered up sexual assaults on teenage girls by mostly migrant youths at a music festival in Stockholm for fear of “[playing] into the hands” of the anti-immigration right-wing party the Sweden Democrats.

In an editorial for the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper at the time, Ivar Arpi wrote: “We Swedes pride ourselves on our unrivalled record on respecting women’s rights. But when women’s rights conflict with the goal of accommodating other cultures, it’s almost always women who are pushed to the side.”

It's almost as if the Australian news media trust their readers to be able to read balanced but direct reports about a sensitive subject without immediately rushing out of their houses to form mobs and hunt down foreigners.


Hegemonic Self-Righteousness

Wolfgang Streeck on Merkel in the LRB. Occasionally too polemical, but an interesting argument:

A master politician like Merkel will never let a good crisis go to waste. It wasn’t just media stories about suffering migrants that led her to invite the refugees in Budapest to come to Germany, no papers required and no questions asked. What Merkel called ‘showing a friendly face in an emergency’ was meant to shame those who, during the euro crisis, had enjoyed the cartoons of Merkel and her finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, in Nazi uniform. By opening the German border while the French and British borders remained closed, Merkel could hope to recapture the moral high ground occupied for so long by those accusing the German government of sado-monetarism, or worse.

Another factor was the tight labour market that German employers, still Merkel’s main constituency, were facing, especially after the introduction of a statutory minimum wage was forced on Merkel by her coalition partner, the SPD. Rumours spread in the German press that Syrian refugees in particular, many of them allegedly with degrees in engineering and medicine, had all manner of skills. German economic research institutes predicted a newWirtschaftswunder, while employers promised to invest heavily in training the presumably tiny number of less skilled immigrants. Everybody assumed that most if not all the refugees and asylum seekers – a distinction soon lost in the general excitement – would stay in Germany for a long time if not for good. For Merkel, who in October 2010 claimed that ‘the multikulti approach [had] failed, absolutely failed,’ this was no longer a problem. In fact, it had become a solution: in the first half of 2015, several studies indicated that the expensive measures taken over a decade of Merkel rule to induce German families to have more children had had next to no effect. Early that summer, to avert what was perceived as a looming demographic crisis, Merkel got her closest aides to test the mood in the party and among the general public on immigration legislation, but was met with firm resistance.

Budapest was what the ancient Greeks called a kairos – a lucky moment when a number of birds were positioned in such a way that they could be killed with one stone. Politics, as always with Merkel, trumped policies. ‘Showing a friendly face’ would make it possible for the Greens at the next election in 2017 to do what their leadership has long wanted to do but never dared: enter into a coalition government with the Christian Democrats. Merkel acted exactly as she did on neoliberal reform in 2005 and nuclear energy in 2011: quickly, on her own, and without wasting time explaining herself. Just as she did when she ordered the Energiewende (‘energy transition’) while the law extending the lifespan of the nuclear power plants was still on the books (several energy supply companies are suing for damages), she counted on the opposition parties in the Bundestag – Linkspartei and the Greens – not to ask awkward questions, and they obliged. The members of her party couldn’t complain: they had been backed into a corner by the SPD’s approval of Merkel’s stance, and by their desire not to damage their leader. Once again, a decision ‘that will change our country’, as Merkel herself put it, was made without regard for democratic process or, for that matter, constitutional formalities.... 

There were good reasons for asking questions. The refugees, more than a million of them, who arrived in Germany in 2015, all arrived from safe third countries. Under German and European law, they had to register in the country where they entered the European Union, and then wait to be assigned a legal residence in a member state. Merkel seems to have decided that she could safely ignore all this. When anyone complained that this was both a huge stress test on German society and a giant social engineering project, Merkel regally announced that if she had to apologise for ‘showing a friendly face’, ‘then this is not my country’ – an extraordinary statement for a democratically elected leader to make. In fact, as the Energiewendedemonstrated, she has for some time been governing not like a parliamentary leader but like a president with emergency powers. For some time, inquiries into the wisdom of her immigration policy were answered by her entourage – which in this case included all the Bundestag parties – by claiming that the mere expression of dissent ‘played into the hands of the right’, a potent rhetorical device in Germany. Until Cologne, concern over the government’s handling of the refugee crisis was effectively suppressed.

One problem with hegemonic self-righteousness is that it prevents the self-righteous from seeing that what they consider morally self-evident is informed by self-interest. The self-interest of German export industries, for example, underlies Germany’s identification of the ‘European idea’ with the single European currency. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the national interest that is mistakenly seen as identical to the interest of all reasonable human beings, in Europe and beyond, is necessarily shaped by the political interest of the government and its dominant social bloc in preserving their power. This puts peripheral countries at the mercy of the national power games and the moral and semantic ethnocentrisms of countries at the centre, which are hard to decipher for outsiders – especially with a postmodern leader like Merkel who, free from substantive commitments and constitutional constraints, has perfected the art of staying in power by means of unpredictable changes of course.

As the refugee crisis unfolded, Europe was dragged into the complicated twists and turns of German domestic politics. Merkel early on informed an astonished German public that controlling national borders had become ‘impossible in the 21st century’, and backed this up by aggressively criticising the Hungarian government for preparing to close its borders. After Cologne, of course, the closing of borders suddenly became possible again, and Hungary re-emerged as a model for the rest of Europe, in particular for Greece, which was threatened by Germany with exclusion from the Schengen area if it didn’t seal its borders. German law forbids, or is said by the German government to forbid, sending would-be immigrants away once they have expressed a desire to apply for asylum. So Merkel had to get the Greeks, and Europe as a whole, to observe this principle, lest her German pro-immigration constituency smelled the rat that was heading in its direction. The burden of keeping the migrants out of Europe fell on Turkey, which was supposed to put an end to the illegal trafficking of migrants to Greece – on a country, that is, whose human rights record suggests it may not be particularly careful when dealing with Syrian or any other refugees. Of course, Turkish co-operation had a price, and though Merkel had in the past steadfastly opposed the country’s bid for EU membership, now, having changed tack again and speaking on behalf of Europe as a whole, she promised Erdoğan expedited negotiations on accession as a reward for preventing the Syrian refugees she had invited to enter Germany from entering Greece....

The result of all the equivocation, double-talk and Merkelspeak, this difficult-to-disentangle mix of self-interest and sentimentality, is an immense political and institutional mess caused by the imposition on Europe of German policies disguised as European policies to which, supposedly, there is no alternative. This includes a restructuring of the citizenry through immigration, not just in Germany where it might seem economically or demographically expedient, but also in other European countries where it definitely isn’t. The result is rapidly rising anti-German sentiment in the form of anti-European sentiment, not only among political elites but also, most powerfully, among the electorate.