The hazards of bathing in Neukölln

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An aggressive response from heavily-armed police to an Arab family at a Berlin swimming pool has provided yet another vignette of the difficulties Western societies face coping with Muslim immigrants’ dramatically different mores. The incident provides a disturbing glimpse into the parallel societies of some Islamic communities in Europe, which find true integration into their adopted homelands incompatible with Muslim piety.

On July 27, medics attempted to treat an injured woman from an Arab family at the Columbiabad pool in Berlin’s Neukölln district, the local Berliner Zeitung (BZ) recently reported. The woman’s clan members present took offense at the male medics touching a female family member. The violation of Muslim norms prohibiting such touching by unrelated individuals offended the family’s honor, one witness reported. Tirades of insults followed and two family “heavyweights” began to punch the defenseless medics. Other family members also joined in the assault.

Pool security alerted the police, who arrived with ten patrol cars and police dogs, as pictured in BZ online. In addition to nightsticks, pictures also showed some of the officers wearing bulletproof vests, as Germany’s national tabloid Bild noted. Witnesses reported that only after using pepper spray were the police able to quell the angry family members. A picture taken after the pool riot showed the police leading a man away in handcuffs.

The following day unknown individuals on a Facebook page called for making the Columbiabad “flat.” Pool authorities reacted with additional security personal for the following weekend, including special units of Hamburg’s Stolzenburg Security who functioned as gatekeepers. One regular Columbiabad guest reported to BZ that “then we felt secure, but now they are unfortunately once again gone.”

The Columbiabad event is apparently not an unusual occurrence. “We often have problems,” one Berlin medic told Bild, “when we are called to emergency operations among Arab-descent families. On the one hand we want to help; on the other hand they do not let us touch the injured at all.”

Such issues would particularly arise in what Bild calls the “problem city segment Neukölln” in a photo caption under an ambulance and police vehicles pictured parked outside the Columbiabad. The district’s decades-long governing mayor, Heinz Buschkowsky, brought national prominence to his borough with his 2012 German bestseller Neukölln ist Überall (“Neukölln is Everywhere,” English book excerpts here). Using his district’s population, 41 percent of whom are foreign-born, as an example, Buschkowsky analyzed problems of deficient integration, poverty, and crime among Germany’s immigrants.

The book’s German description online at Amazon speaks of “parents, who do not concern themselves with their kids, adolescents without any future perspective, parallel societies, violence and crime.” “Berlin-Neukölln,” the description summarizes, “has meanwhile become a synonym for the home of a lost social class.” Yet such problems also exist in other German cities, not just Buschkowsky’s “district fallen into disrepute” that he wants to make “livable for all once again.”

The description quotes Buschkowsky declaring that, “in order to secure a democratic, peaceful, and tolerant community for the future as well, our present mandate without alternative is: Integration.” Nonetheless, the book description notes his message that such “integration is no law of nature that implements itself on its own.” The description, though, cites Buschkowsky’s belief that “one can change people through education.”

The hazards of bathing in Neukölln, among other frictions of multiculturalism, raise questions concerning how easily this socialization can occur. Strict rules against contact with unrelated women as well as female body coverings are paradigmatic for a culture seeking isolation from, and indeed dominance over, non-Muslims. Concerning Germany’s Turkish immigrant population, one intelligent German friend of mine commented to me in the mid-1990s that “they do not want to integrate.”

Any attempt at integrating Muslims into Western societies demands challenging some of these traditional norms and, as the Berlin police at Columbiabad demonstrated, sometimes outright coercion. The inherent problems in any such cultural rapprochement have thus prompted politicians like Holland’s Geert Wilders to demand restrictions upon an Islamic immigration deemed inherently difficult for Western societies to digest socio-politically. Irrespective of policy proposals, dealing with Islamic immigration in Europe and elsewhere will be no walk on the beach.

Andrew Harrod