Last week, some 200 masked men rushed into a train station, beating some of the passengers. No, it wasn’t the Taliban. It was…Swedes. Why on earth would a mob form in sweet, idyllic Sweden that attacks unarmed people? This is unprecedented in modern history.
This was a clear case of vigilantism. If the attack was tied to a specific case it would die down quickly, but this signals something much broader. It began in 2014 with the Syrian civil war refugee crisis, and exploded in 2015. Last year Sweden led Europe in the number of asylum applications in relation to its population.
The wave of refugees from this crisis is notably different, however. Typically in a civil war situation, the men stay and fight and the women and small children flee. This time, something very odd has happened: According to the UN, the majority of people claiming to be refugees are men of military age. Historically, when millions of men of military age entered a foreign nation, the word typically used was “invasion”. Once refugees were being accepted, non-Syrian men from all over the region trekked to Europe to take advantage of the compassion being offered.
This would have been moot if all refugees brought one thing with them: Gratitude. The refugees of WWII and Vietnam, for example, assimilated quickly into the United States and worked hard to build a life in their new country. They certainly did not angrily demand cash, housing, and services of the nation that was compassionate enough to help them. And there were certainly not thousands of refugees committing crimes like there are in Sweden.
Some of these refugees, dominated by military aged men and individuals claiming to be adolescents, have formed gangs that are spreading terror in the Swedish capital. According to Stockholm police they are stealing, groping girls, and assaulting security guards.
The most troubling aspect of this phenomenon is that the crime wave is not restricted to Sweden. Many European officials simply refuse to acknowledge what is actually happening. In fact, in The Netherlands, citizens who ask too many questions about accepting refugees have been visited by the police. A core element in a democratic society is the street demonstration, at least one of which was cancelled because of police pressure. The only thing worse than having new gangs in ones country is to have the local politicians refuse to keep their citizens safe.
When a democracy blocks its citizens from speaking out on issues of the day, any legitimate concerns will turn to anger and manifest in some other, less productive ways.
In Germany, citizens are angry that their young daughters are being harassed by the refugees. When residents of the German town of Bad Schlema expressed their concerns to the mayor, he replied that there was an easy solution: “Just don’t provoke them and don’t walk in these areas.”
This is a perfect example of why Europe is poised for a wave of vigilantism. The only proper response to anyone harassing young girls — refugee or native — is police involvement. It is simply unconscionable for citizens to be expected to avoid “no go” areas in their own town.
In Cologne, Germany, the New Year’s celebrations included hundreds of sexual assaults by refugees. The victims were typically singled out and surrounded by about a dozen men who sexually assaulted them, protected by a larger ring of men who were working to keep bystanders, husbands, and even police away. It is called “taharrush gamea” in Arabic, or collective harassment. The initial reaction of the police was to downplay the ordeal, but the sheer volume of the attacks forced recognition.
In Sweden, a young woman working at a refugee center was stabbed to death by a person claiming to be a refugee. The incident occurred right after the scandal broke that Swedish law enforcement for years withheld reports of rapes by migrants from the public, putting women in even greater danger.
In Europe, citizens are seeing harassment, sexual assaults, and other crimes sharply increasing. They are being lied to by their governments or even pressured into silence. Their government officials increasingly refuse to enforce the laws on the books when it comes to the refugees.
This is a recipe for a disaster. One of the fundamental aspects of civil society is that in exchange for not carrying out vendettas, the government will protect you. But when the government refuses to protect its citizens, as we are seeing in Europe right now, that bond is broken. People begin to see the threat clearly, and they know they face it alone. The coming wave of vigilantism will be terrible for Europe, and can be stopped in its tracks now with this simple policy: Enforce the laws equally.
Michael James Barton is the founder of a consulting firm, Hyatt Solutions. He worked on trade issues on Capitol Hill and served at the Department of Defense and the Homeland Security Council during the George W. Bush administration. He can be reached at Scheduling@HyattSolutions.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @MichaelJames357.