In the aftermath of the sexual assaults attributed to refugees on New Year’s Eve in Cologne, Germany, and the subsequent outbreak of anti-refugee sentiment and violence in the country, our Editor in Berlin, Johanna Heuveling reflects on the appropriate stance to take in the moment when we are pulled by a strong current of opinion.
A lot has been said and written, and many are the explanations given which circulate through the ether. With a lot of it one feels instantly in agreement, then you read others which also seem reasonable. I have waited a long time before deciding to join in with this disharmonious orchestra.
Pressenza cannot try to clarify everything that has happened, neither in the Paris attacks, nor in the Cologne sexual assaults. For that we lack direct contact with the sources of information. What we can do in Pressenza – a platform of news for peace and nonviolence – is offer a mast, or at least remind ourselves that one exists. I’m referring to the mast on Ulysses’ ship to which he was tied in order to resist the sirens’ song. What we need now is a kind of internal mast: a solid foundation to our humanity and conviction in some basic values in order to form our idea of the world and make decisions. This can protect us from the irrationality that is always unleashed after the impact of an event and can help us find a coherent position whatever happens.
We have been able to feel this internal mast when we welcomed the refugees to Germany. We were sure that we had to give protection to these human beings escaping from an absurd war, from death and destruction. After years of news concerning people drowning in the attempt to cross the Mediterranean, news of Syrian massacres, after the anger of watching how Europe isolated itself from the rest of the world; it was finally a relief to be able to do something to help people directly.
Then it became difficult. We found ourselves in the situation that after great effort, it seems that there are some people who don’t see the fruits of our compassion. There are some who abuse us and our freedoms. And there are some who simply don’t understand, who are incapable of adapting to another culture and to another mentality. There are men who laugh at women’s rights, there are women who want to remain subordinate to men, and people who refuse to learn German; to mention only some experiences – apart from the Cologne events – that are everyday life for volunteers working with refugees. There is great disappointment. We wonder if we’ve done something wrong. Maybe we shouldn’t have opened our borders and our hearts because now it turns out that those we wanted to protect are precisely those who are hurting us. We start to degrade them in order to not have to be faced with our illusions.
It’s time to realise that it is never bad to help those in need. The mistake is in expecting that hundreds of thousands of people, through the simple fact of receiving our help, will suddenly turn into stable, friendly and nonviolent citizens. We can do our part to improve the world, but we can’t expect that the world will immediately become a better place as a result.
We cannot let our disappointment detach us from our mast; the internal centre showing us with clarity what is true and what is false. There is still a lot to do in this violent world.