Others are merely baffling. Public swimming pools are confronted with epidemics of young Afghan men who think it a good idea to expose themselves, whipping off their pants and standing there until tackled by the lifeguards and removed from the premises with orders to never return. Let’s be charitable: let’s assume that at some point, one or two of these young men might have heard stories of nudist beaches and thought to join in. But that’s hardly an explanation. Seriously; in a foreign country where your legal standing is tenuous, wouldn’t you cast a quick glance around to ensure that you are not the first and only man thus flaunting his ornamentation, before engaging in conduct that your entire upbringing has taught you to consider unthinkable? Come on!
Plus, within hours or days of their arrival, the Afghan-refugee grapevine educates newcomers as to the ins and outs of navigating the country: what offices to go to and what to say when you get there, where to apply for additional aid, where to find free housing and so on. If they can learn all of that, they can figure out the dress code.
So again: what’s going on? Why is this happening? And why the Afghans? A few competing theories are in circulation.
First: “They get drunk.” One of my interlocutors, a diaspora Afghan who has lived in Vienna for decades and works as a certified court translator and advisor, and thus is intimately familiar with these cases and the persons involved, dismisses this explanation out of hand. Rather, he says, word has gotten out that claiming to have been mentally incapacitated during the commission of a crime—including from alcohol or drugs—counts as an extenuating circumstance. Often, he relates, the defendants will have been inadequately briefed and will put this excuse forward ineptly. For example, they will say that they drank two beers and from these blacked out, remembering nothing of their subsequent actions. This theory also does not explain why Afghans should be more prone to alcohol-induced sexual aggression than other young refugee men from comparable backgrounds.
A second theory hypothesizes confusion caused by a clash in cultural values. These young men, the theory holds, come from a country where women are mere dark silhouettes completely hidden under pleated burqas. Confronted with girls in tank tops and short shorts, they lose their grip on sanity and their hormones run away with them. This theory, in addition to being borderline blame-the-victim offensive, does not hold water. Again, the same reaction should then also be shown by other young men from strict Islamic societies where gender segregation is the norm; why would only the Afghans react this way? And how does it explain cases such as that of the seventy-two-year-old pensioner, out walking her dog when attacked, beaten and raped by a young Afghan? Or the schoolboy, kidnapped and gang-raped in Sweden by a group of Afghans?
Indeed, if we review the pattern of the attacks, we can soon dismiss this theory. Typically, the preferred targets are not what stereotype might imagine, provocatively dressed young women that a confused Muslim from the ultraconservative hinterland misinterprets as promiscuous. No; often, the victims are mothers with small children. I am guessing that to a predator, they appear to be easier targets, because it is assumed they will be handicapped in their ability to fight back, but there may also be some more Freudian dimension that I am missing.
In one recent case that raised a huge public outcry, a woman was out for a walk in a park on an elevation above the Danube. With her she had her two children, a toddler plus her infant in a baby carriage. Out of the blue, an Afghan refugee leapt at her, threw her down, bit her, strangled her and attempted to rape her. In the struggle, the baby carriage went careening towards the embankment and the infant almost plunged into the river below. With her second child looking on aghast, the woman valiantly fought off her assailant, ripping the hood off his jacket, which later made it possible for an Austrian police dog to track him down.
In another incident, two young women were on a midday stroll in the pedestrian zone of a small Austrian town, pushing their babies in prams before them, when they were abruptly attacked by several Afghan refugees, who lunged at them and ripped off their clothing but were apprehended before they could do further damage. It’s clear that such events antagonize the general public. It’s also clear that we can dismiss the “they were drunk and didn’t know what they were doing” theory, as well as “they thought the women were asking for it.”
This brings us to a third, more compelling and quite disturbing theory—the one that my Afghan friend, the court translator, puts forward. On the basis of his hundreds of interactions with these young men in his professional capacity over the past several years, he believes to have discovered that they are motivated by a deep and abiding contempt for Western civilization. To them, Europeans are the enemy, and their women are legitimate spoils, as are all the other things one can take from them: housing, money, passports. Their laws don’t matter, their culture is uninteresting and, ultimately, their civilization is going to fall anyway to the horde of which one is the spearhead. No need to assimilate, or work hard, or try to build a decent life here for yourself—these Europeans are too soft to seriously punish you for a transgression, and their days are numbered.
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.