chapter  10
The Cologne translation note
Victims and perpetrators
BySjaak Kroon
Pages 20

According to the Wikipedia article ‘New Year’s Eve sexual assaults in Germany’ (created January, 2016), ‘[d]uring the 2016 New Year’s Eve celebrations, hundreds of sexual assaults (including groping), numerous thefts, and at least five rapes were reported in Germany, mainly in Cologne city centre. Similar incidents were reported in Hamburg, Frankfurt, Dortmund, Düsseldorf, Stuttgart and Bielefeld. All of the incidents involved women being surrounded and assaulted by groups of men on the street. There were more than 1900 victims and it is reported that up to 1000 men may have been involved in Cologne, acting in groups of several dozen. The focus of this contribution however is not on the women who were the victims of these assaults but on the perpetrators, referred to by the same Wikipedia article as ‘[m]en of Arab or North African appearance’. More specifically it will deal with the media construction of perpetratorship leading to victimization of a recently arrived and highly vulnerable group of refugees in Germany. A central aspect in the media coverage of the assaults was a little handwritten note that was found on the spot by the police and that contained a German–Arabic word list ‘translating threats to women’. In this chapter, it is shown how the media used this translation note, among other things, for framing these refugees as perpetrators, as asylum-seeking criminals and rapists who recently arrived in Germany mainly as a consequence of the war in Syria. As a postscript, the chapter will also briefly refer to the curious case of Kamel Daoud. This Algerian journalist and writer, as a public intellectual, took a position on the Cologne events and became a victim himself when he found himself heavily criticized by a group of French intellectuals. As a consequence, he decided to leave the public debate and return to being just a writer.