Why Cologne Attacks Have Killed Taboo On Muslim Immigration

It has been considered not politically correct to talk about challenges of integrating Muslim immigrants in German society. That has changed forever after the New Year's attacks on women in Cologne.

Cologne's cathedral, where violence happened on NYE
Cologne's cathedral, where violence happened on NYE
Jacques Schuster


BERLIN â€" This day will make history.

For the first time, German politicians are talking straight. What we are now witnessing is nothing less than the beginning of a reversal in Germany's entire approach to refugee policy.

To understand just how dramatically Germany's attitude has changed, consider the Nov. 23 interview with the chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. Meditative, calm, carefully searching for the right words, Josef Schuster explained how important it was to support people in trouble.

But he also said the day would come when it would be necessary to consider restrictions and boundaries. In the long run, he continued, it wouldn't be feasible to absorb all of the refugees, especially considering that among them were people with a cultural background much different from ours, who would have to move toward the acceptance and incorporation of gender equality, equal rights for homosexuals and Jews.

Schuster never said anything that could be considered immoral or offensive. But in the weeks after the interview was published, he faced the kind of hostile backlash that no other chairman of the organization has ever had to endure. Politicians all across the country denounced his self-evident and rather tepid comments as scandalous, politically incorrect, a derailment from history. One even accused Schuster of "polluting the climate," and another said his organization should be renamed the Central Council of Racist Jews.

But what was considered scurrilous and "far right" less than two months ago is suddenly conventional wisdom all across Germany.

There's no politician, no commentator today who would dare to contradict the basic ideas Schuster laid out. More than that, Social Democrats are now adding to the debate by saying Germany should make it easier to deport refugees under certain circumstances, even though they considered this idea right-wing extremism just days ago. Nobody hesitates now to name which countries refugees suspected of crimes originated â€" which, until New Year's Eve, had for years been considered in terribly poor taste.

No more walls

Katarina Barley, a Social Democrat leader, now says Germany should take "take drastic measures." Another, Sigmar Gabriel, says the country should "exploit all of options of international law."

Some may mock this sudden turn, while others deplore or welcome it, but one thing is sure now: Jan. 6, the day the official police reports concerning the events of New Year's Eve in Cologne were published, will make history in Germany. That was the official turning point in the country's immigration policy.

It's now finally acceptable to point out the dangers that come with mass immigration from primarily Muslim countries. We have marked the end to the taboos that were, after all, nothing but the prohibition of intelligent reflection.

Decades ago, Social Democrat thinker Peter Glotz characterized major political parties as "tankers," in contrast to the more agile sailing crafts of smaller parties. They were less flexible, he noted, requiring more time to set in motion any kind of change. We can say that the same is true for democracy as a whole. It's difficult to get it moving, and it often remains stagnant for years. And yet, fortunately, democracy is the only political system with the gift of self-criticism and the power to repair its errors.

It's a message that should ring true as well for those demanding a more authoritarian regime in Dresden and the East German regions, where rallies by the far-right Pegida movement want to discard democratic ideals to safeguard the well-being of residents. Now our leaders have the means to achieve the necessary corrections in immigration policy without having to build new walls in our society. Ever since Jan. 6, this is our new reality. Finally.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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