October 21, 2016

A Policewoman’s Harsh Message

I am writing this review of the Estonian edition of this book in Tbilisi and just yesterday I read a BBC article about the export of Islamic extremism to Sweden. Why do I mention this? The article said that one of the reasons behind the formation of ghetto-like migrant districts and the spread of radical Islam is chronic underfinancing and undermanning of the police. This is also one of the recurring arguments in Tania Kambouri’s book. Many reforms for increasing the efficiency of police work she suggests were implemented in Georgia during President Mikheil Saakashvili’s tenure—for example, carrying body cameras and creating a modern working environment. There is certainly much in this book that would ring a bell with the police officers of the Republic of Estonia.

The author is a German policewoman of Greek origin. Tania Kambouri stresses at the outset that the text has been written—using German terminology—from the viewpoint of a person with a migration background, a woman and a police officer. The second aspect, which the author constantly emphasises, is that most migrants are law-abiding citizens who cause no more problems than law-abiding Germans, and are therefore invisible. However, there are problems with a minority—a very criminal minority, that is.
Kambouri has a very ambitious goal: she does not describe but attempts to analyse the causes of this criminality and how to fight it, and—even more importantly—how to prevent it. On this, the author admits that she is able to speak of such matters only because of her Greek origin—a German police officer would certainly have been accused of racism for raising such issues.
The book’s 208 pages can be conditionally divided into thematic blocks that overlap in several parts. Firstly, politicians who support the police in word only, if at all, are criticised. Tania Kambouri highlights several times how several laws and rules limit the authority of the police and thereby reduce the efficiency of their work. For example, the German police can only check documents if someone is being rude and noisy on the streets. Politicians are in fact blamed outright for contributing to migrant crime and the overall increase in crime rates because they have waived their respective responsibilities. Kambouri uses specific cases to illustrate that, in reality, fighting crime depends, first and foremost, on particular political decisions. Several realities of police work are explained in detail—for example, German police do not attack a crowd spontaneously but only after issuing multiple warnings, after which they have the right to treat all those who remain in place as potential criminals.
The author touches briefly but impressively on civilian courage, which is also very topical in Estonia, and all of the author’s views can be applied directly to Estonian society. The main message here is that we cannot place all the responsibility on the police and expect the crime rates to fall if society ignores the offences.
The two largest blocks in the book are an analysis of the characteristics of migrant crime and proposals for its prevention. As I follow the discipline of legal anthropology, I was glad to read that Kambouri differentiates between various population groups and does not consider all non-Germans living in Germany the same. For example, the subject of refugees is explored separately and, although the discussion of the topic is short, it is clear that the author considers the ambiguous legal situation and uncertain future resulting from it to be the root cause of the refugees’ problems. The people who arrive do not know what will become of them; where and for how long they need to stay. They are not allowed to do anything—for example work—to improve their situation. One aspect of the uncertainty is also ignoring offences committed by the refugees, which in turn leads to more serious offences. So, if breaking furniture in refugee camps is overlooked, it is no wonder people end up stabbing each other.
Tania Kambouri divides migrants into three groups: eastern Europeans, the Roma and Muslims. The first two groups are not much discussed. Eastern European offenders mainly engage in breaking and entering, theft and fraud, and are generally not violent. The Roma live separately in large families and their different understanding of ownership is one of the main reasons for conflict.
Addressing the subject of Muslims shows vividly that the author knows what she is writing about. According to the book, this group includes the Turks, Arabs (mainly Lebanese) and Kurds who live in Germany legally. Kambouri has witnessed their crimes as the representative of state authority and as a woman. The latter discourse is an especially interesting read. In short: Muslims do not respect female police officers and even victims of crime sometimes refuse to talk to policewomen. In addition, Muslims are responsible for the majority of violent crimes and robberies, which is why—and here Tania Kambouri also speaks for the majority of German policewomen—men should be in a clear majority in the police forces. A woman may simply be physically unable to handle a perpetrator. Passages on how well such criminals know their rights and the rules governing the police are also informative. It is the powerlessness experienced by officers due to lenient punishments and excessive regulation of the rights of police officers that often leads to negligence.
In respect of crime prevention and punishment, Tania Kambouri favours zero tolerance. In her opinion, everything comes down to the need to integrate children through school and learning the local official language. However, the family should share this responsibility. If a family ignores compulsory school attendance, they should also be penalised, especially if a member of this family has already had problems with the law. The book’s message is that maximum effort should be made in childhood to prevent a person from resorting to crime because life has shown that at some point there is no return—Muslim migrants with an overly long criminal record are incapable of integrating.
Kambouri gives very specific and well thought-out advice on how to integrate migrants’ children into German society. For example, in addition to good academic progress at school she also attributes importance to introducing European values, especially explaining the principles of gender equality. As an anthropologist, it is interesting and pleasing to read how well the book differentiates between the fundamental principles in society and cultural norms, because norms are what Muslims tend to identify as principles.
“Cultural traditions should not be used to cover up criminal activity,” says Kambouri on page 141. It is explained with police-like frankness that criminals also use the culture card. They do this either by claiming “This is what our culture is like!” or slamming the racism card down on the table. The book also provides a recommendation for solving each problem, so this is not another wail on “a given topic”.


This article was published in ICDS Diplomaatia magazine.

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