And it’s not just the sex crimes, my friend notes. Those may agitate public sentiment the most, but the deliberate, insidious abuse of the welfare system is just as consequential. Afghan refugees, he says, have a particular proclivity to play the system: to lie about their age, to lie about their circumstances, to pretend to be younger, to be handicapped, to belong to an ethnic minority when even the tired eye of an Austrian judge can distinguish the delicate features of a Hazara from those of a Pashtun.
I see his point. In the course of my research, I encountered thirty-year-olds with family in Austria who were passing themselves off as “unaccompanied minors.” I met people misrepresenting an old traffic injury as proof that they had been tortured. I learned of an Afghan family that had emigrated to Hungary two decades ago. The children were born there and attended Hungarian schools. When the refugee crisis erupted, enticed by news of all the associated benefits, this family decided to take on a new identity and make their way to Sweden on the pretense of being brand-new refugees. Claiming to have lost their papers during their “flight,” they registered under new assumed names and reduced the ages of their children; the mother declared herself a widow. Now ensconced in comfortable free housing along with their hale, hearty and very much alive father—whom they pass off as an uncle—with a monthly welfare check, they are smug parasites leeching off the gullibility of Sweden’s taxpayers.
Western legal systems are meticulous and procedural, operate on the basis of rules and rights and forms and documents, and consider you innocent until proven guilty. It didn’t take the refugees long to figure out how to leverage this to their advantage. “They’ll stand right there, balding, grey at the temples, and insist that they’re eighteen,” an exasperated Austrian prosecutor told me. Having “lost” their documents, the only way to refute even the most patently absurd such claim is through expensive lab tests. If you have no documents and no shame, you can assert just about anything and then lean back and wait for the system to try and prove otherwise. If you are rejected, no problem: you can launch multiple appeals. Once you have set foot in Europe, it will be almost impossible to get rid of you; indeed, you can literally commit murder. If a court finds you guilty of rape, you need only argue that if you are sent home, your conservative society will kill you for the dishonorable act—then you can’t be shipped out, because EU law forbids extradition if doing so puts the individual’s life at risk. And murderers cannot be sent back to countries that have the death penalty or a judicial system known to be harsh.
But we are still left with a mystery. Welfare fraud is one thing: it makes a certain kind of sense, if you have no regard for rule of law or fairness and you are lazy. But why is this current cohort of Afghans making its mark as sexual predators . . . and inept, stupid ones at that? In search of an answer, perhaps we should take a closer look at the victims. We have eliminated improper attire and an unwittingly seductive manner, but might they have any other traits in common to shed light on why they became the targets of such madness? Reviewing them, one word comes to mind: fulfillment. A Turkish exchange student, happy to be advancing her education in industrial design at a good university in Vienna. A girl in a park, enjoying the sunshine. Two friends, taking their babies for a walk. A mother, enjoying a summer stroll with her two children. A contented old lady, out with her pet. Attractive, accomplished, happy, normal people . . . an unbearable sight, perhaps, to—and here I must agree with President Trump—losers. That is what he proposed we should call terrorists, and he is right. These young men, even minus a suicide vest, are losers, which has inspired them to become social terrorists.
The young Afghan attackers are saying, yes, that they have no impulse control, that their hormones are raging, and that they hate themselves and the world—but most especially, that they will not tolerate women who are happy, confident and feeling safe in public spaces. They are saying that they have no intention of respecting law, custom, public opinion, local values or common decency, all of which they hate so much that they are ready to put their own lives, their constructive futures and their freedom on the line for the satisfaction of inflicting damage.
Established middle-class diaspora Afghans are understandably upset and embarrassed to see their nationality thus disgraced by these uncouth newcomers. And yet they are part of the problem. Many of their actions and reactions, however natural or unintended, amount to complicity. They cover up, make excuses for, advise on best ways to wriggle out of consequences, and even directly abet the deceptions, illegal acts and disgraceful manners of friends, relatives and random unknown fellow Afghans.