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  • Cologne, Scene of Fantasies
  • Kamel Daoud (bio)

What happened in Cologne on Saint Sylvester’s Eve? It’s difficult to know exactly just from reading the reports, but we do know, at least, what was going on inside of heads—in those of the aggressors, perhaps; in those of Westerners, certainly.

It’s a fascinating tale of fantasies being played out. The events in themselves couldn’t correspond better to the mingling images that the Westerner cultivates of the Other, the immigrant-refugee: bleeding-heart optimism, terror, reactivation of the ancient fear of invasion of barbarians, and the foundation of the binary barbarian vs. civilized. The immigrants we’ve welcomed attack “our” women, assault them, rape them.

All this conforms to the ideas that the right and the extreme right have always constructed in their discourse against welcoming refugees. The latter have been understood to be the aggressors in this case, even if we don’t yet know that with any certainty. Are the guilty parties immigrants who’ve been there for a long time? Recent refugees? Criminal organizations, or just hooligans? No need to wait for the answer in order to rave about it with coherence. The “events” have already revived a discussion: Do we welcome, or do we close ourselves off in the face of the world’s misery? Fantasy doesn’t wait for facts.

Bleeding hearts as well? Indeed. The effort to welcome refugees, asylum seekers who are fleeing the Islamic State or recent wars, has stumbled in the West because of an overdose of naïveté: Westerners see the status of the refugee and not his culture. He is a victim who absorbs their projections, their feelings of humanist obligation, their guilt. They see the survivor, and forget that the refugee is arriving from a culture that corners him, above all, between his relationships with God and women.

In the West, the refugee or immigrant may save his body, but he will not be able to negotiate his culture with the same ease, and if we forget this, we do so out of disregard. His culture is what remains for him after being uprooted and confronted with the shock of a new land. The relationship with women that is fundamental to Western modernity will in some cases remain incomprehensible to the lambda male for a long time.

He will, therefore, negotiate the terms with fear, with compromise, or with a desire to retain “his culture,” and this will change very, very slowly. It will take very little—a re-emergence of the herd instinct or an emotional disappointment—for it all to come painfully back. Collective adoption has the whiff of the naïf so long as it is limited to bureaucracy and ushered through customs control with a heavy dose of charity.

Is the refugee, then, a savage? No, just different, and it is not enough for those who welcome him to give him documents and lodging [End Page 64] in order to absolve themselves. They must offer asylum to the body but also convince the soul to change. The Other comes from this vast and mournful universe of sexual misery in the Arab-Islamic world, wherein exists a sick relationship with women, with the body, and with desire. To welcome is not to cure.

The relationship with women is the Gordian knot, the second in the world of Allah. Women are denied, refused, veiled, shut away, or possessed. This all suggests a troubled rapport with the imagination, with the desire to live, with creation, and with freedom. A woman is the reflection of a life that we do not wish to accept. She is the incarnation of a necessary desire and therefore guilty of a terrible crime: life.

This is a widespread conviction that is very visible, for example, among Islamists. The Islamist dislikes life. For him, it’s a waste of time that blocks his entry to eternity. It’s temptation, futile growth, a distancing from God and from the sky, a delay on his appointment with the everlasting. Life is the result of a disobedience, and this disobedience is the result of a woman.

The Islamist begrudges she who gives life, perpetuates...


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pp. 64-66
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