The recent sexual gropings amidst the New Year’s Eve crowds in various European capitals, apparently perpetrated by gangs of Muslim men on local women, have thrown Europe’s progressives into turmoil. They are being presented with the dilemma of choosing between two favored principles: the freedom of modern women to move about cities unmolested versus the freedom of Middle Eastern Muslim immigrants to emigrate to Europe.

This clash was inevitable. Anyone the least bit familiar with the Middle Eastern Muslim world would know how restrictive the treatment of women often is, and what can happen to women who transgress—as all Western women would probably be considered to be doing just by living their normal Western lives. In this recent clash in Europe, so far it’s the women who are losing and the new arrivals who are winning, although that could change if the situation gets bad enough.

You can see the clash in the angry reaction to the statements of the mayor of Cologne—a woman—who suggested guidelines for female behavior at future public festivities:

Reker’s suggestion that women could avoid being sexually harassed (or raped, as two women reported they were on New Year’s Eve) by keeping potential assailants at “arm’s length” drew immediate backlash. On Twitter, the outrage—much of it alternating between shock and sarcasm—amassed under #einarmlaenge, or “an arm’s length” in German.

Aside from everything else you might say about it, Reker’s suggestion sides against the women and on the side of the perpetrators by placing the onus on the women to change their usual behavior in order to be safe, behavior that Western women have come to see as perfectly reasonable and ordinary: that of going out into a celebrating crowd. In addition, if you think about it, Reger’s suggestion is also absurd on the face of it: in crowds, it is impossible to keep anyone at arm’s length; that’s the very nature of a crowd. And if one is surrounded by a group of hostile people, what would be the avenue of escape? So if we follow Reker’s words to their only logical conclusion, it would mean that women shouldn’t go out to celebrate where there might be crowds of people in close proximity.

It has been clear for a long time that to defend fundamentalist Islamic culture in many of the countries of the Middle East is to defend cultures that tend to oppress women, to use a favored leftist term. And yet it has also been clear for a long time—at least since the 1979 revolution in Iran, when leftists joined forces with the repressive Islamists to overthrow the Shah—that leftists would often choose the Islamists over feminism. In some cases, actually, it was even the feminists themselves who chose to stand with the Islamists (I recall feminists/leftists donning chadors in 1979 in Iran as a badge of solidarity), or at least winked at them or tolerated them, perhaps thinking that in the end the progressives would win out over the Islamists. But the Islamists have had the last laugh there, haven’t they? And so they may again.

There have been recent glimmerings of a reaction in Germany that might balance things, at least a little bit: yesterday it was announced that Merkel’s government has suggested some changes in Germany’s sexual assault laws:

At present the courts can only order deportations when criminals are given custodial sentences of at least three years. The legal changes would allow deportations to go ahead for people given suspended sentences or jail-terms as short as one year, as well as for offenders aged under 18.

However, even those small changes may be hard to implement, because in Germany such deportation is only legal “to a limited range of states and only if the home country government agrees and the convicted person has travel documents.” This could easily rule out most of the refugees. And of course, it’s only an after-the-fact remedy: a crime must be committed first, and a perpetrator successfully identified and prosecuted. How often will that be happening, how many women will be sacrificed first, and how much money will be spent in an increased police presence?

Over one million asylum seekers arrived in Germany last year, and Merkel so far refuses to allow Germany to impose its own further limits, but insists on an EU-wide solution “through redistributing refugees inside the bloc, tighter external EU frontier controls and a deal with Turkey to reduce inflows from the Middle East.” Meanwhile, the newcomers continue to arrive.

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]