Regressive Left: Laurie Penny on Cologne

Laurie Penny wrote an article in the New Statesman which exemplifies many of the stark issues with the Regressive Left, particularly with regard to Cologne and the broader rape crisis across many European countries, made worse by what appear to be deliberate, politically motivated cover-ups and fear of PC backlash for investigating and prosecuting racial minorities.

I am absolutely bloody furious about the cover-ups, the moral and ethical cowardice of our nations in relation to these issues, and the fact that the febrile atmosphere the SJW cult has created has made it so hard to go after criminals in ‘protected’ groups. That probably comes across in this article.

Her article, titled “After Cologne, we Can’t let the Bigots Steal Feminism” is not only years too late to prevent that happening – the worst bigots I’ve ever encountered have been feminists and SJWs – but is precisely the kind of thing that is feeding the problems behind responses to Cologne (and other less famous incidents) and Rotherham, as well as demonstrating horrific levels of hypocrisy. It’s telling that even relatively ‘moderate’ (or at least less boat-rocking inclined) outlets like the Rubin Report and The David Packman Show have picked up on Penny’s comments – amongst others – and not just easily dismissed right wing or ‘manosphere’ sources.

Why can’t we always take sexual assault as seriously as we do when migrants and Muslims are involved as perpetrators?

This seems a peculiar question to ask, but you have to put it in context. Over the last few years there have been many flimsy accusations, several high profile false accusations and numerous dubious, or at least questionable, changes to various university policies and legal standards. With concepts like ‘stare rape’ being seriously bandied about and ‘manspreading’ being seriously warned against the situation iss the inverse, but no less laughable, than the Republican ‘real rape’ nonsense of a few years ago – indeed almost making that seem like a legitimate question.

In comparison to all that, the attacks in Cologne are what appears to have been a coordinated set of attacks on hundreds of women, not only sexual assault and rape, but theft and good old regular violence as well. Furthermore similar attacks seem to have been reported across Germany and other countries and similar stories of cover-ups – for fear of fuelling racism and right wing parties – have come out.

So why is this taken seriously? Because it’s actually serious and because it is so serious and undeniable it has brought up a lot of problems and revealed issues around the fears of racism accusations or feeding the right wing, which overrode the duty of care governments and police have to the people. There’s even reports of victims not wanting to come forward or report attacks because they were similarly afraid or didn’t want to feed the narrative.

The end result? The stories broke anyway and the far right has made far more hay of it than the otherwise might have because of the cover ups and because in many cases they’re still the ones admitting there is a problem and offering (bad) solutions

In a perverse sort of way, it’s progress. After months of dog-whistle xenophobia, European authorities have finally started to treat migrants as they would treat any other citizen. They have achieved this by choosing not to make a fuss when migrants are accused of raping and assaulting women.

Well, no. That’s not progress. Rather than being treated like anyone else these presumed migrants, immigrants and refugees – sharing a cultural attitude and religion but not necessarily much else – have been extended the benefits of gunshy legal authorities, cover-ups and protections – even media reticence – that stand in stark contrast to, for example, the overzealous willingness to accept and go after those implicated in the Rolling Stone/UVA scandal or the attacks on unconvicted, alleged offender James Deen. With reports and prosecutions up and sex offences down, along with the public pillorying of anyone even accused of rape it’s very hard to characterise Western societies as ‘rape cultures’, especially in contrast to the cultures implicated in these events.

The police and the press were initially slow to react, and the Mayor of Cologne reacted to eventual protests by suggesting that women should adopt a code of conduct in public and keep an ‘arm’s length’ distance between themselves and strange men. 

It should be noted that this was the progressive mayor of Cologne, the one stabbed for being so welcoming to refugees prior. It should also be noted that this kind of hypocritical apologism is not limited to them. Numerous supposedly progressive newspaper and magazines have engaged in similar behaviour, excusing the behaviour of the attackers. It seems ‘cultural differences’ is the acceptable version of ‘she was wearing a short skirt’.

It is the first time in recent history that the right-wing press has not joined in the condemnation of these wanton strumpets who dare to think they might be able to have a good time without worrying what ‘invitation’ they’re sending to men. Instead, the right wing blames… liberals. Who apparently caused all this by daring to suggest that refugees should be able to come to Europe in safety. 

It’s not just the right wing raising concerns. The liberal left, the genuine liberal left, has been raising concerns about these issues as well for just as long – if not longer – than the right has. Anyone genuinely progressive voice that has spoken up with concerns over cultural clashes, Islamic beliefs and their consequences, has been shouted down as, ridiculously, an ‘Islamophobe’ or even more ridiculously as ‘racist’.

The right wing is, to an extent, correct to blame the Regressive Left (or however you want to term them) as they have made reasonable, measured discussion on these topics impossible. One need only review the encounter between Sam Harris and Ben Affleck on Bill Maher’s show to see this in action. Calm, measured, evidenced, rational discussion met with wild and spurious accusations that subvert and prevent a decent debate being had.

It isn’t that what caused this was suggesting that refugees should be able to come to Europe, it’s that this febrile and ‘J’accuse!’ way of going about the debate has led to fear and unease, even bringing up reasonable concerns and issues is to invite reputational damage and ‘greenwalding’ that can be impossible to put to rest.

It’d be great if we could take rape, sexual assault and structural misogyny as seriously every day as we do when migrants and Muslims are involved as perpetrators.The attacks in Cologne were horrific. The responses – both by officials and by the armies of Islamophobes and xenophobes who have jumped at the chance to condemn Muslim and migrant men as savages – have also been horrific. Cologne has already seen violent protests by the far-right anti-migrant organisation Pegida, a group not previously noted for its dedication to progressive feminism.

It’s absurd to pretend our societies in the West don’t don’t these seriously. Indeed the contrast in feminist reactions to these attacks and their day-to-day screeds and sermons couldn’t be more stark. Faced with a genuine case of an actual patriarchy and rape culture, an actual case of a culture with structural misogyny – that actually exists – the cowardice of the previously strident feminist lobby has been breathtaking.

What word would you use other than ‘savage’ to describe what has occurred and why are there not slutwalks, op-eds decrying the attacks, redoubled efforts to bring feminism to Islamic cultures (where it’s actually needed) and so on? Why instead are we seeing these screeds trying to shout down the people and groups – not all far right by any means – who are condemning what happened and are demanding solutions are simply being decried, wholesale as racist.

The far right is cleaning up, because they’re listening and offering those (terrible and broadbrush) solutions, while the Regressive Left, such as Ms Penny, seem far more concerned with making excuses and refusing to offer solutions or to wholeheartedly and unreservedly condemn the attacks.

This is what worries me. Because we cannot have this conversation and because elements of the Regressive Left are more fixated on preserving their narrative and ‘being right’ than admitting reality or doing what is right, the right wing are then free to dominate the discussion and to pass off their conspiracy theories and racist nonsense as truth, relatively unchallenged because other sources have lost trust.

It’s a miracle! Finally, the right wing cares about rape culture! Finally, all over the world, from Fox News to 4chan, a great conversion has taken place and men who previously spent their time shaming, stalking and harassing women are suddenly concerned about our rights! And all it took was a good excuse to bash migrants and Muslims and tell feminists they don’t know what’s good for them. 

This is a classic misdiagnosis. People have always been concerned by rape culture, where it actually exists, not where it does not. The accusation has not been taken seriously as it applies to Western culture because it’s patently ridiculous. Accusations of stalking, harassment etc have been gendered when they’re not, and have been wildly overblown. That’s the objection, not that these things aren’t bad – the outrage at Cologne etc is real – but that these issues are being trivialised and conflated with ‘trivial bullshit’ and hyperbole.

Personally, I just love it when random men on the internet tell me what my feminism should like, because gosh, you know, this whole resisting oppression thing is really hard sometimes and it’s great to have people who know what they’re talking about take over for me so I can get on with the ironing. These people have repeatedly demanded that I ‘condemn’ the attacks in Cologne, which is a lazy way of implying that somebody doesn’t really care about an issue.

And this article is a strenuous way of demonstrating you care less about this issue than a few mean words over Twitter that can’t possibly hurt you, but which somehow demand meetings at the UN while Saudi Arabia gets to sit on the Human Rights Council. You can’t simultaneously try to claim Feminism is Egalitarianism, and that it’s good for men too, while denying men the right to speak and argue. Anyone can read a definition, observe actions and notice a disparity between the two. Criticism is how ideas are tested and hardened.

So let me be clear: sexual violence is never, ever acceptable. Not for cultural reasons. Not for religious reasons. Not because the perpetrators are really angry and disenfranchised. There can be no quarter for systemic misogyny. And if we’re serious about that, there’s not a country or culture on earth that won’t have to take a long, hard look at itself.

Which sounds great, until the last sentence. If you want to try and remotely equate genuine patriarchal and abusive structures in the Middle East with possibly having less seat room or blocking a troll, then you’re out of your mind. Also while you might – finally – have come around to saying that, others in the Guardian, Independent and elsewhere have made myriad excuses and your first instinct was to condemn anyone who was concerned or who pointed – rightly – to cultural issues as a racist. That has to change and trying to water down what happened with disingenuous comparisons won’t get you off the hook.

The sensible thing to do in response to the Cologne attacks would be to call, as many German feminists are doing, for a far more rigorous attitude to rape and sexual assault across Europe. Instead, the solution on the table seems to be to clamp down on migration.

We already have rape laws and a rigorous attitude towards it. In social terms possibly too rigorous since a mere accusation means ruination, a fact which should perhaps lead us to consider anonymity for the accused in such cases. What would be sensible would be to simply hold these groups to the same standard, rather than granting them special status – perhaps with deportation and barring from entry as an additional threat to motivate them.

If there ever was a case where ‘Teach men not to rape’ wasn’t a purely insulting load of old nonsense, it might be in the case of immigration from Middle Eastern and North African cultures coming to much more permissive European and Nordic/Scandinavian cultures. Indeed these are already happening in Norway.

Instead of dealing with the actual problem, people like Ms Penny seem to react to perfectly valid concerns about immigration from particular cultures by bemoaning it as racism, only to turn around and blame all men, nearly 50% of the global population, as being the problem. If bemoaning a particular culture is bigotry, then how much worse is bigotry on an even broader basis?

I actually can’t believe I’m having to explain this right now. I thought we covered this in kindergarten. Those of us who have moved beyond that level can, if we really try hard, understand that it’s not either ‘sexism is exclusively practised by Muslim men’ and ‘sexism is exactly the same everywhere.’ This is what we call a ‘false dichotomy’ when we get to big-kid school. 

Here’s the actual difference.

Our nations in the west are liberal democracies in which egalitarian law and permissive social attitudes have been in place for over half a century. Our genuine sexists are limited in scope and power, despite being imagined to be everywhere. We have full legal equality of the sexes – indeed a cogent argument can be made to say the pendulum has swung the other way in the battle of the sexes. On race too, we have full legal equality though issues of class/wealth often get dressed up as racial issues. When it comes to LGBT issues we still have a ways to go, but the fact that we are not stoning homosexuals to death or hurling them off buildings speaks volumes to our progress and relative pursuit of human happiness. We have broken the back of religious influence on most of our nations (a handful excepted) and we are now secular, be it explicitly or implicitly so. Despite protestations to the contrary, we are not systematically sexist, racist and homophobic as a culture.

The same cannot, broadly, be said of the cultures from which these people are arriving. They are still mired in prejudices we haven’t had at such a vicious level since before germs were discovered. Homosexuals are regularly killed across these cultures or forced to undergo gender reassignment surgery – at best. Women are not only constricted by ‘voluntary’ obedience to religious mores, but their inferiority is codified into law, implicitly or explicitly influenced by the Koran and enforced by vigilantes, the populace, religious police and/or the regular police. These are places where a girl of fourteen can be whipped to death for the crime of being raped.

There is no comparison to be made. These are genuinely male-oriented, patriarchal, theologically dominated, sexist rape cultures. Everything that Feminism claims to be against and projects onto our – not just relatively – but genuinely benign culture.

Yet there’s this paralysis in addressing it, examining it or dealing with it. We must – somehow – be as bad, culpable, we must find excuses for them it seems. It’s good that Ms Penny finally came out against it and decried the excuse-making of her fellow Regressive Left members, but these false equivalences and demands that our culture be considered just as bad will not wash.

It’s not a matter of our sexism ‘being different’, it’s like comparing morphine with homoeopathy.

The oppression of women is a global phenomenon because patriarchy is a global phenomenon. It’s embedded in the economic and social structures of almost every nation and community on earth. Sexism and misogyny, however, look different across boundaries of culture and religion, as well as across divides of race and class and between generations.

Bullshit conspiracy theory, false equivalence and delusion.

The UK, for example, enacted this.

In Saudi Arabia on the other hand (and note how government is involved in these) the situation is this.

For all that these people claim to hate ‘Islamic’ sexual violence, it seems to fascinate them. In the past three years, I’ve lost count of the white men – and it is almost always white men- who have emailed, tweeted and sent me doctored pictures sharing their graphic fantasies in which feminist harpies like me are stoned to death, fucked to death, genitally mutilated, whipped, burned and gang-raped – not by them of course. By those awful Muslims.

I condemn it, but I think I know why. They’re trying to get you to acknowledge and see what actual rape culture looks like. What an actual patriarchy looks like. That our culture is not even slightly, remotely, one scintilla as bad and that the groups you’ve been excusing and defending are everything you claim to be against, while concentrating your ire on art, commentary and mean tweets. It’s a crude, horrible way of saying “Maybe you should give a shit about this?” as well as the death of patience for being treated as though they were acting like these people.

I’ll be blunt. I think some people out there are very excited by their conception of ‘Islamic’ violence against women. It allows them to enjoy the spectacle of women being brutalised and savaged whilst convincing themselves that it’s only foreign, savage men who do these things.

If I’ve learned something valuable over the last two years it’s to try not to project my own biases and interpretations on what people are telling me from my political opposition. Most of the time they’re sincere, they just have a different ‘read’ or set of ideas about the nature of what is going on.

I put it to you that people are not excited by Islamic violence against women simply because it is brutal and horrifying and goes against our culture of equality, liberation and tolerance. They hate it when women are genuinely abused and harmed and this might also be why they treat ‘trivial bullshit’ with contempt as it devalues and undermines genuinely horrific events.

The point is that misogyny knows no colour or creed, and perhaps it’s time we did something about that. We’re used to a society where a basic level of everyday sexism, sexual violence and assault is accepted. So if you’re saying this act of violence isn’t entirely different from all of those, and if you’re saying that refugees should be treated the same as European citizens, you must be saying that everyone should get a free pass to treat women like walking meatbags, right?

Genuine, actual misogyny might not – but it is a term that has been worn gossamer thing by inappropriate overuse. However it’s certainly more common amongst particular creeds, embedded within them and that needs to be addressed. We’re not used to a society with a basic level of everyday sexism and that’s why we’re outraged by this. What people are saying is that this is not acceptable and that yes, they should be treated like European citizens, like everyone else, held accountable for their actions, prosecuted and punished. Not let off or covered for because they happen to pray to Mecca or be browner than the average Swede.

Men and boys of every faith and none must learn that they are neither entitled to women’s bodies nor owed to our energy and attention, that it is not okay, ever, to rape, to assault, to abuse and attack women, not even if your ideology says it’s okay. That goes for the men’s rights activists, the anti-feminists and fanatical right-wingers much as it does for religious bigots. 

Here’s the thing. They already know. It has taken cultural indoctrination for men to think otherwise and outside those cultures this is not a remotely widespread attitude. No MHRA I have ever met is pro-rape, no anti-feminist I have ever met is pro-rape. Not even the most fanatical right-wingers I’ve ever met – and I consider rhetorically beating up ‘white genocide’ nuts a hobby, has ever expressed any pro-rape views. This passage says much more about you Ms Penny, than anyone else.

If we want to hold up Europe as a beacon of women’s rights, that’s fantastic. Let’s make it happen.

It already is. You can’t legislate mind control or censor people’s opinions and a minority of people with the ‘wrong’ opinions, powerless and marginalised are all that’s left. So much so that more and more reasonable and moderate ideas are being attacked and nonsensical things are being rebranded as misogyny and sexism from sexy computer games to sitting with your legs apart. You’re living on another planet if you can’t acknowledge the gulf of difference at work here, but you can never seem to celebrate what we have and what we’ve achieved, only spread these masochistic fantasies to try and make us seem as bad as the worst the world has to offer. It won’t wash and you’ll only alienate people with this unreasonable outlook and outrageous demands for authoritarian control.

It’s easier to pin misogyny on cultural outsiders than it is to accept that men everywhere must do better – but any other attitude is rank hypocrisy.

It’s easier to point to actual, genuine misogyny and rape culture where it actually exists, than to manufacture it where it doesn’t.

It’s also, apparently, easier to hurl spurious accusations of racism and to avoid the real issues, than to discuss them. That’s where the far right will step in, bolstered by conspiracy theories about media censorship, and where they’ll gain purchase.

That too, will be your fault.

There is an appalling moral and ethical failing on the Regressive Left to tackle this issue and it may well be too late to be able to offer a more balanced approach, or even one brave enough to admit that a society and culture that condemns and punishes rape and sexual violence is objectively a better society and culture than one which explicitly permits and even demands it.

Instead, even trying to field this will result in accusations and distractions.

What can we do? Better screenings. Cultural education. Deportation of criminals. No more cover-ups. Open discussion and debate on the problem interpretations and effects of Islam.

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One response to “Regressive Left: Laurie Penny on Cologne

  1. Pingback: Playing Wendy: Laurie Penny amongst the ‘Lost Boys’ | The AtheFist

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