First it was Cologne, and other cities in Germany. Now it is Sweden: the police have been accused of covering up cases of sexual violence against women where the perpetrators are alleged to be recently arrived migrants. All this has produced a lot of anguished commentary over at the Guardian website, and other places.
What is at stake here is as follows: two sacred rights have collided – the right of women to be themselves without let or hindrance, and the right of refugees to enter the country, along with the right of free movement of peoples.
Needless to say, this recent spate of violence is a gift to the anti-immigration lobby. It is also a gift to racists, reviving as it does the idea that dark-skinned men are a threat to white women. (This very old idea is challenged by E M Forster’s Passage to India, as well as Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet, both of which deal with Indian men supposedly raping white women.)
The trouble with this whole affair is that it raises important matters which are unlikely to get a fair hearing, given that so much is at stake here. It is not really about feminism, or the unacceptability of rape. Consider this report of what the German bishops have to say, and you will see that they say nothing that any sensible person could ever disagree with. We all know rape is wrong. Nor is this really about the free movement of peoples, or indeed refugees. After all, there are thousands of Poles and Hungarians in the UK who, as far as I know, are no more likely to commit crimes than Brits who were born here. Back in the Seventies, Britain admitted thousands of Asians from Uganda as refugees: they didn’t then go on to cause a surge in the crime rate.
What this is really about is Islam, which has a very different approach to the relations between the sexes than Christianity, and which has a very different approach to the concept of law. These are two things we need to talk about as a society, but sadly, in the present climate of opinion, I see very little chance of that happening. After all, we have had our own Rochdale scandal here, and others too, and still not broached the topic that matters.
As a Catholic, and a Catholic theologian, it is my job to uphold Church teaching. So here is some common sense Church teaching that every Catholic needs to understand, and which I think makes sound sense for non-Catholics as well.
First of all, respect the opposite sex; do not judge people by the way they dress and by the way they look. After all, who are you to judge? And who are you to know a person by their outward appearance?
Second, the human body is sacred, because human beings are sacred, as they have rights and they have dignity. You must not lay violent or lascivious hands on another person.
Third, any social institution that legitimises the lower status of women must be done away with. Chief of these is polygamy; some way behind, but still important, is the custom of women covering themselves up in all enveloping costumes that hide their identities. Yes, some women may want to veil themselves, but this is still wrong.
Fourth, we all need to acknowledge the God-given equality of the sexes.
Fifth, and this really is important: you must obey the laws of the state in which you live. The state is mandated by divine providence. Unless its laws are clearly immoral, you must obey them. And you must respect the forces of law and order. All delegitimisation of the state is to be firmly rejected.
These are the matters that we need to think about. Race, immigration, the question of refugees, policing, are all important, but not quite relevant. What is relevant is how Muslim men see women, and see the law of the land.