I'm writing to you because your advice is usually inspirational and great for people to mull over. I think I need to be inspired to rethink my current state of mind.
I live in Scandinavia and have recently moved to a bigger city to continue my education. I have a good life for the most part, with interesting classes and plenty of new friends. My problem is that I'm rapidly becoming paranoid. This summer the newspapers reported an increase of rapes in the city where I now live. I don't know whether the reports said much about the attackers' ethnic background or not, but my impression is that most of the rapes were committed by immigrants from Muslim countries.
My fear of people (men) from Muslim countries has escalated recently, especially young men and boys who don't speak our language very well. No Muslim man or otherwise has ever hurt me. I've experienced really persistent attempts at being picked up by Muslim men in situations where you wouldn't expect such behavior (just riding the bus or shopping for groceries), and I've had lewd comments thrown at me, which are creepy, but it's never been a matter of safety.
Most Muslim men I've met have been civil and nice. (Most of them probably don't even notice I'm there.) The number of times I've been harassed by a Muslim man is probably less than 10. And yet my increasing paranoia is starting to put a damper on my social life. I'm never out past 11:30 p.m. anymore, because I don't like going home by myself; I bought a pepper spray, but it doesn't make me feel any safer. After dark I feel like there's a man with the Quran in his coat pocket hiding behind every bush, waiting to clubber me down and steal my chastity. Please can you convince me that I'm being silly?
No, I can't convince you that you are being silly. You are not being silly. You are right to be afraid.
Rape is an appalling reality throughout the world. If rapes have increased in your area, how could you not be afraid? If press reports and word of mouth indicate that the rapists fit certain profiles, how can you ignore that? It doesn't make you a bigot to have certain images pass through your mind.
However, fear of rape is also a weapon historically used by racists and bigots to demonize immigrants and minorities. So beware of sweeping statements and baseless claims that appeal to your fears rather than to your intellect. You say you don't remember whether the reports said much about the attackers' ethnic background but nonetheless you received "the impression" that most of the rapes were committed by immigrants from Muslim countries. So you need more and better information about what exactly is happening.
Rape is a real danger. There are also complex political, cultural and religious forces at work. Both these things are true.
So rather than dismiss your fears as silly, I suggest that you contact a women's group or rape crisis center in your city and arrange to take self-defense courses. You acted reasonably when you bought the pepper spray, but it's not surprising that it doesn't make you feel safer. You need to learn how to use it. Confidence will come with practice. If you take a self-defense course you will learn by doing. You will feel more confident.
I spent the morning searching the Web on the topic of rape in Scandinavia. If there is indeed an alarming increase in rapes, I found no avowedly impartial organizations offering hard numbers. Mostly what I found were openly partisan bloggers. That doesn't mean it isn't happening. It does suggest that more reporters ought to look into it. I am distrustful of the strident tone and sweeping generalities in this report by the blogger Fjordman, but it does raise the question: If this is going on, where are the other voices condemning it? Where are the voices of feminists, leftists and human rights activists? Maybe they're on the case. I just didn't see anything in my admittedly brief look.
I did find some thoughtful writing on the larger subject of Muslim assimilation into Northern European and Scandinavian cities in this 2002 Partisan Review article by Bruce Bawer, who grew up in New York but in 1998 moved to Amsterdam and then to Oslo. His most recent book, "While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West from Within," is a rather more heated work whose message might be summed up thusly: "Tolerance for intolerance is not tolerance at all."
Ian Buruma's "Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo Van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance" is also extremely illuminating in its discussion of complex cultural and religious forces clashing in Northern Europe and Scandinavia.
But the important thing right now is your own safety. Learn self-defense. Learn as much as you can about the situations and localities in which rapes have been occurring, and to the extent possible, avoid those localities and situations.
The crucial fact is this: Women are not immune to rape anywhere in the world. You must protect yourself physically. You should be applauded for learning to do so, wherever and however, by whatever means necessary.
And once you have taken these steps, and you have the facts: Speak out. Let the world know what is happening.
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