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Cologne Aftermath: Maligned Far-Right Shouldn't Be Alone In Driving Debate On Migrant Crisis Culture Clash

14/01/2016 11:49 GMT | Updated 14/01/2017 10:12 GMT

Officials' "fear of being racist" had dire consequences in South Yorkshire between 1997 and 2013 - some 1,400 girls, some as young as 11, were raped, trafficked, abducted, beaten and intimidated, predominantly by men of Pakistani-heritage, as officials turned a blind eye.

A report commissioned by Rotherham Council in November 2013, by Professor Alexis Jay, later revealed officials had ignored a "politically inconvenient truth" that had threatened "community cohesion". Councillors and council staff in particular were criticised for "avoiding public discussion"; some through fear of being thought racist, and some through "wholesale denial" of the problem. Reports in 2002, 2003 and 2006 had reached similar conclusions.

Jay's report concluded: "Several councillors interviewed believed that by opening up these issues they could be 'giving oxygen' to racist perspectives that might in turn attract extremist political groups and threaten community cohesion."

Similar accusations of denial and cover-up, and of crimes fuelling far-right support, have consumed media reports in the days since the mass sexual assaults of women in Cologne on New Year's Eve, which led to police chief, Wolfgang Albers, stepping down. He had initially reported that the evening had passed-by unspectacularly. The atmosphere, he had told reporters, was not only "relaxed", but "peaceful".

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The New Year's Eve attacks took place outside the Cathedral and train station in Cologne, pictured above on December 31, 2015

Later, as dozens of women tearfully described being groped, assaulted, attacked with fireworks, and even raped, as they ran a gauntlet through a 1,000-strong mob of men they said were from the "Arab or North African region", Albers admitted his initial statement was "incorrect". An internal police federal report seen by the Wall Street Journal of that evening said the scenes awaiting women outside the train station and cathedral "defies description". The media too were accused of being slow to act, even of ignoring the story. And they did, some for days. Possibly fuelled by an initial lack of truthfulness from police, and, perhaps a sense of caution, wary not to buy into what seemed like apocalyptic far-right hyperbole. After all, as Albers later conceded, the events of that night were "a completely new dimension of crime". But the media weren't simply being cautious, they were being cowardly. For the migrant crisis, often referred to as the worst humanitarian crisis since the Second World War, has become a tale of compassion over common sense, where less digestible truths are being sieved out, and where often the only honest reflection of the factors behind attacks is being highlighted by the far-right.

In the aftermath of the New year's Eve attacks, Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker chose instead to face the wrath of feminists. She advised women to avoid attacks by keeping male strangers "an arms length away", rather than acknowledge that the crimes may have been committed by some of the million-plus migrants Germany welcomed in 2015 - a gesture so grand, Chancellor Angela Merkel was awarded the Time Person of the Year 2015. While Merkel has decried the assaults as "repugnant criminal acts that... Germany will not accept," they have fuelled opposition to her open-door policy, and left Germany, in her own words, "vulnerable".

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Right-wing demonstrators and members of PEGIDA march in Cologne on January 9

The sex and violence attacks were not limited to Cologne. Similar incidents were said to have taken place in Hamburg and Stuttgart. Incidents in Austria, Finland, France and Switzerland have also been mentioned. In Sweden, a police investigation was launched this week over claims it had experienced its own Cologne-like sexual assault cover-up. It's now claimed that a gang of youths - reportedly mostly from Afghanistan - groped and molested girls as young as 11 or 12 at the We Are Sthlm festival in both 2014 and 2015. Sweden's PM, Stefan Lofven, condemned the allegations as "a double betrayal" of women and a "big democratic problem" and pledged Monday: "We shall not close our eyes and look away. We need to deal with such a serious problem."

Sadly, the only group with their eyes open is the far-right. Its members have voiced concerns about the impending cultural and idealogical clash that mass-immigration brings with it for over a decade. Unfortunately the poisonous way they've expressed their views has meant they've been easy to dismiss, which kickstarts an ugly chain reaction - they get violent and lose validity and debate stops. German prosecutors revealed Wednesday that they had charged three men and a woman for forming a far-right terror group - the Oldschool Society - and planning to use explosives to attack a refugee shelter last May. (Ralf Jaeger, interior minister for North Rhine-Westphalia, within which Cologne is situated, said earlier this week that "what happens on the right-wing platforms and in chatrooms is at least as awful as the acts of those assaulting the women").

Tommy Robinson, the founder of the English Defence League, felt vindicated by the Rotherham report. He'd been warning about grooming for several years previous - a female relative of his was a victim - and the very existence of the gangs, and authorities reluctance to prosecute them, helped prompt him to start the EDL in 2010. Grooming gangs are also a pillar in Britain First's plan to ban Islam from the UK. On Monday Robinson, now a coordinator for Pegida UK, posted a video on YouTube, where at one point he bowed his head and squeezed his face in frustration that anyone was "surprised" the Cologne attacks had occurred.

Robinson left the EDL in 2013, claiming he was struggling to control "extremist elements" within the group, whose behaviour was becoming more extreme with every attack carried out in the name of Islam. Now, Pegida has the same problem, with members taking their frustrations over the Cologne attacks into their own hands.

Hundreds of anti-refugee rioters rampaged through the German city of Leipzig on Monday calling for asylum seekers to be deported and their nation's borders closed. Around 250 members of Legida -a local branch of anti-migrant group Pegida, attacked doner kebab fast food stalls, set cars ablaze and smashed windows in a juvenile display of frustration. Demonstrators threw fireworks at police, and attempted to build a barricade with signs and torn up paving stones. A bus carrying leftist demonstrators was also attacked. Pegida had held a march against refugees earlier on Monday where banners reading "Rape Refugees stay away" were hoisted in the air.

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A man walks past a destroyed shopping window in Leipzig on Monday

The vandalism in Leipzig followed a weekend of attacks in Cologne by a vigilante mob bent on meting out retribution on immigrants. Two Pakistani men were hospitalised and a third Syrian man was injured before police increased their street presence to prevent further incidents. A Syrian man was also hurt in an attack on Sunday, which took place just 20 minutes later.

While the race of an offender should be as irrelevant as that of the victim, the migrant crisis has allowed problems to be concealed that are too important to be left to the far-right to champion, and to use to furnish support. The crisis has always been a game of dodgeball, but we all must play.

While Merkel's open-door generosity should be applauded, along with the UK public's compassion in challenging David Cameron to take more refugees, and not bomb Syria, the lack of acknowledgement from world leaders of the consequences of their decisions shouldn't be, as that's turned far-right spokespeople into mainstream figures with swelling support; the Islamophobic rhetoric went mainstream last year, with reality TV star Donald Trump, using terrorism as a political trump card, to suggest the US should ban Muslims from the US altogether.

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Migrants arrive on the Greek island of Kos

Many of the refugees we are accepting are from war zones, often where the West is being blamed for interfering where it shouldn't. They've lost family at home, they've lost family along the way, and they've bought with them religious and social norms completely at odds with the life they've travelled thousand of miles to obtain. And with world leaders either playing host or gatekeeper, sadly, their presence has also brought with it civil unrest, with far-right groups banding together to oppose them and cease control of the debate. On February 6, some 12 groups across Europe will simultaneously march against them under with one banner: "Save our country. Save our culture. Save our future."

If only someone had the common sense to listen.