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Back in September, I wrote a post called Cultural Suicide, in which I generally welcomed the influx of migrants into Europe.
A number of people disagreed with me, which is, of course, just fine. But when a much-publicized attack in Cologne/Koln happened on New Year’s Eve, a couple of commenters howled with glee, thinking that this proved their point that immigrants (particularly those from majority-Muslim countries) were all bad/evil.
I disagree, of course, but not for the reason that they think. And since it’s a perfect illustration of a common heuristic, I’d like to expand on the topic further.
First, just so it’s absolutely clear to even the most obtuse reader, I vehemently condone assaults against anyone, especially women. Whether the perpetrators were dark-skinned and “Muslim” or blonde-haired white “Christian” guys makes no difference to me. They should be arrested, prosecuted, and punished. End of story on that.
Furthermore, it’s a particularly heinous crime to attack partygoers on what is essentially a public holiday, being out in town late at night on December 31 to ring in the new year. The case is far from being concluded, but it does look like there were several sexual assaults that took place, which is doubly heinous.
Nonetheless, all the reports that I’ve seen said that approximately 100 men were involved, and that there are clear signs that this was an organized crime, with the main scope of the activity being robbery. The sexual harassment and assaults, while still loathsome, look like (at least from the reports we have so far) they were incidental to the main goal: robbing people of their money and mobile phones.
From what we know so far:
Earlier, the German interior ministry said 31 people had been identified as being involved in the violence, of whom 18 were asylum seekers suspected of crimes ranging from theft to assault. None of the asylum seekers was suspected of committing sexual assaults of the kind that prompted outrage in Germany.
Putting this all together, this means:
- Refugees were not the ones sexually assaulting people; and
- This was not spontaneous behavior due to “Muslim culture” (or the inherent evilness of foreigners), but directed and organized, making it more like a mafia event than “foreigners gone wild”
Furthermore, according to preliminary reports:
Of the 31 people identified, nine were Algerian, eight Moroccan, five Iranian, four Syrian and two German, plus an Iraqi, a Serb and a US citizen.
So that’s 2 Germans and 1 American, as well as whoever these other bad guys were.
But let’s just assume the worst, that all the attackers were refugees, and all of them were Muslim. What can we learn from this?
Well, as my critic himself volunteered, more than 1 million migrants entered Europe in 2015. If we assume that the Cologne gang members were all refugees, and that there were 100 of them (right now, it’s less than that), then that makes them exactly 0.0001% of the total migrant population.
If the Cologne attacks were somehow indicative of the normal behavior of refugees in Europe, then there would’ve been ten thousand similar attacks throughout 2015. Obviously, there weren’t. In fact, the rate of criminal behavior amongst refugees in Europe is far lower than that of native “Christian” citizens! And that’s not just my “guess”, that’s the official report from the German “FBI”, and Germany has accepted far more refugees than any other country in Europe.
In fact, just this past weekend, it was groups of native “Christian” Germans who were out attacking total strangers, not dark-skinned “Muslim” people/refugees.
So why did my critic, as well as dozens of people on my Facebook feed, and erstwhile (ex?) politicians like Traian Basescu feel that the Cologne NYE attacks somehow “prove” that refugees/Muslims are dangerous?
For that, I’ll use a quote that I read yesterday from When to Rob a Bank (written by the Freakonomics authors) about threat assessment:
A given person might fear a terrorist attack and mad cow disease more than anything in the world, whereas in fact she’d be better off fearing a heart attack or salmonella.
Why do we fear the unknown more than the known? That’s a larger question than I can answer here, but it probably has to do with heuristics – the shortcut guesses – our brains use to solve problems, and the fact that these heuristics rely on information already stored in our memories.
And what gets stored away? Anomalies – the big, rare, “black swan” events that are so dramatic, so unpredictable, and perhaps world-changing, that they imprint themselves on our memories and con us into thinking of them as typical, or at least likely, whereas in fact they are extraordinarily rare.
The truth is that any person in Germany, or Romania, is far more likely to be the victim of rape and assault from a person that they personally know, rather than a (dark-skinned, Muslim) stranger. I can’t find statistics for Romania (or Germany) but in the United States, about 80% of the time, people are murdered by someone they know quite well, and roughly 2/3rds of rapes are perpetrated by someone the woman personally knows.
But you can see the heuristic at work here with these Cologne attacks. People know their fellow light-skinned “Christian” neighbors, so inaccurately gauge the threat that their neighbors pose is far lower than it actually is.
Meanwhile, a few very rare crimes perpetrated by a group people that you don’t know (different race, different faith) stands out as a much higher threat than it actually is.
Interestingly, while my Romanian critics (as well as a whole host of Romanian politicians) are all calling for the banning/expulsion/turning away of those “unknown” Muslim people, over in France, which suffered two genuinely horrific attacks in 2015 (the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January, and the Bataclan etc attacks in November), the mosques just held an “open door” session (link in French) this weekend precisely so that curious Christians could come in and have a look and see what a mosque actually is, instead of just guessing about it and indulging in their fear of the unknown.
Read that article (or the Google Translation) and you can see that it worked – ordinary French people who are not Muslim, who had no idea what a mosque was or what went on there, were glad to check it out and have their questions answered.
Which, you can almost predict with completely accuracy that most of the fiercest critics of Muslims (including the PM of Slovakia) have never been in a mosque in their entire life. They exist in every major city in Romania, including Cluj-Napoca, and yet few outsiders ever “dare” to go in there, which is why this open door weekend was such a good idea.
Not only that, but the French president, Francois Hollande made an unannounced visit to the main mosque in Paris on the very same day of the 1-year anniversary of a Muslim terrorist event! If that’s not enough, French government TV is constantly running PSAs about how tolerance of all cultures is a good thing.
The gang of criminals in Cologne need to be arrested, prosecuted, and handled accordingly. But that was an organized crime, involving a host of different people, many of whom were neither Muslim nor refugees, and the whole thing was a statistical fluke (abnormal, and therefore shocking). Instead of it proving how “evil” or “dangerous” foreigners are, it instead emphasizes just how rare criminal behavior is by foreigners (who have a lot more to lose than citizens).
Countries like France, which have accepted Muslim migrants for decades, and who have sustained genuinely scary terrorist attacks (by Muslims), are now emphasizing tolerance and better understanding because they know that 99.9999% of the Muslim (and refugee) population are neither terrorists nor members of organized crime groups who rob and rape. Just as most Germans are good, hard-working people, not fascist thugs who wander around beating up anyone who looks different.
Crime happens. Let the judicial system catch and prosecute the offenders. But there’s no need to fear an entire group of people, or let ignorance trick your mind into over-inflating the threat that they pose.