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Opinion

Opinion: New Year's Eve in Cologne - A déjà vu for Muslim women

Many Muslim women recognized what happened on New Year's Eve outside the Cologne Central Train Station from their own home countries. The problem is obvious to all and begins with circumcision, says Nalan Sipar.

"You must leave this room," the imam says to me just moments before my girlfriend and her future husband are about to be married according to Islamic law. "No," I say, "I'm staying here." We are waiting for the marriage witness, who is stuck somewhere in the traffic chaos of Istanbul. However, since the imam has to rush to his next ceremony, we need a new witness, now.

My query as to whether I could fulfill the task garners an evil glare from the imam. In the end, the 18-year-old son of a neighbor serves as the official witness, even though he knows neither my girlfriend nor her fiancée. But that doesn't matter. The most important thing is that a man has to witness the ceremony. His word counts; mine, as a woman, doesn't.

Totally absurd? Utterly normal!

The disrespect that I experienced that day in Turkey began when I was a child. Whereas a boy's circumcision is enthusiastically celebrated as a first step toward becoming a man, a young girl receives a "symbolic" slap in the face from her mother when she has her first period. The message: "From this day forward you are a woman and you had better behave!" The mother acts according to the old saying: "Whoever does not slap their daughter, slaps themselves in the knee." Which can be translated as: "Parents have no one but themselves to blame if their daughters don't behave and cause them trouble."

Internationale Volontäre der Deutschen Welle Nalan Sipar

DW's Nalan Sipar

This contempt for women in Islamic society stands in opposition to the gender equality that is proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the German constitution. In such societies, women must obey their fathers, then their husbands and finally bow to the expectations of society for the entirety of their lives.

The socially accepted definition of women as weak and men as strong is propagated from childhood and encourages many men to do whatever they want with women. Many of the men who partook in the sexual assaults on New Year's Eve in Cologne come from such a background and, by necessity, exhibit the psychological effects that such societal norms bring about. It is totally irrelevant what country these men come from, how long they have been in Germany or what their residency status is. The important thing is that we will have to have discussions about such character traits and the image of women that results from them if we are to get to the root of the problem in the future.

Women have to be heard

Those who know this problem best are the women who question and criticize the role they are given in Muslim society. Women for whom the Cologne attacks are nothing new. They know such behavior from Taksim Square in Istanbul and Tahrir Square in Cairo. Women who refuse to remain silent about gender relations in their societies.

To clarify: Every person has the right to live in peace. This is not about immigration from Islamic countries per se. People that are fleeing war zones naturally deserve our help and solidarity - especially families, and mothers with children. These children have done nothing wrong, and it is our moral obligation to help them.

Straight talk

Nevertheless, immigration obviously brings problems - problems that we cannot ignore. And as this influx of people from so great a distance provides no historical comparisons, there is no one that we can ask about possible risks and side effects. We have to be careful not to paint the world as black or white. No, the world that we live in is complex, and every person is individually different.

But, New Year's Eve in Cologne made one thing obvious: We have to be straight with one another. However, we need to do so without labeling each other as Islamophobes or racists. We have to take the worries and fears of others seriously. That is of the essence, if we are to protect our heritage from the Age of Enlightenment, the fruits of which we here in Europe enjoy every day.


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