by Tahir Mustafa (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 38, No. 6, Sha'ban, 1430)
The brutal murder of a hijab-clad woman in a German court last month has once again exposed the deep-seated racism andIslamophobia that rage in Europe and North America. Marwa al-Sherbini, a 32-year-old German woman of Egyptian origin, was testifying in a Dresden court against a man known only as Alex W., who had been convicted and fined €750 ($1,050) last year for calling her a “terrorist,” “b*tch” and “Islamist” after she asked him to allow her three-year-old son Mustafa to use the park swing.
As the three-month pregnant Sherbini prepared to testify against the man, the latter casually walked to the witness stand in front of court officials and stabbed her with a butcher’s knife 18 times on July 1. Her young son Mustafa looked on in horror as the murder was perpetrated. Not one court official or security guard intervened to prevent this brutal attack that lasted for full eight minutes. When Marwa’s husband, Elvi Ali Okaz rushed to her rescue, he too was stabbed. Adding insult to injury, when the police arrived they shot Okaz. German prosecutors made the astonishing statement that the police mistook him for the “assailant” because of his “ethnic looks”. Clearly, for Germans and Europeans, Muslims are automatically presumed guilty while blonde-haired people, even if they commit heinous crimes, are innocent. Okaz, a geneticist who was preparing to defend his PhD thesis, was reported to be in critical condition in a Dresden hospital. His wife Marwa’s body was flown to Egypt and buried in her native Alexandria on July 6 amid moving scenes of grief and anger.
The Western media almost completely ignored the story. One can imagine the furor if a Muslim had perpetrated such a crime. There would not only be screaming headlines about such barbarism in newspapers but talk show hosts would spend endless hours on television discussing this from every angle. There would be allegations about Muslims “hating” women and not sharing “our values”. When Europeans perpetrate such crimes, the issue is not considered worthy of attention. A similar dismissive attitude was apparent in some secular media outlets in the Muslim world. The Pakistani newspaper, Dawn, known as a mouthpiece for secularists and pro-American propagandists in Pakistan, sought the opinion of its readers about the murder. The carefully-moderated responses, some even from Hindus, continued to attack Muslim “extremists” rather than the brutal murder in Dresden. When one respondent pointed out that it was irrelevant to talk about Muslim “extremists” and lack of justice in Pakistan when the issue was the murder of an innocent Muslim woman in a German court, the message was quickly taken off the blog after it automatically appeared there when it was submitted.
In Germany, the focus has been more on issues of court security than the racist motivation behind the attack. When one prosecutor in Dresden, Christian Avenarius, acknowledged the attack, it was quickly followed by the qualifier that the xenophobic attack was the work “of a fanatical lone wolf.” There was no acceptance that there is deep-seated racism and Islamophobia in Germany, as well as in Europe and North America. Ulrich Wilhelm, a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at a press conference on July 13, “In the last few days, all government representatives have made very clear there is no room in Germany for xenophobia or Islamo-phobia.” He went on, “We condemn such incidents whenever they occur,” but quickly added that Germany did not have a climate that fostered racist views. He did not explain why the police officer shot the victim’s husband, Okaz, based on his “ethnic looks”, as German prosecutors admitted.
Muslim groups in Germany have said Islamophobia is rife. They point to the fact that it took several days before Merkel’s government bothered to issue a statement condemning the murder. “Islamophobia, hidden or open, has existed for a long time in our country. The incident with the headscarf murderer exposes a new dimension,” said Aiman Mazyek, general secretary of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany. In a statement, he urged Merkel to address Germany’s more than four million Muslims and condemn what he described as a “brutal, racist, Islamophobic murder”. While insisting that there is no racism or Islamophobia in Germany, Merkel failed to explain the Dresden murder or the fact that the murderer had already been convicted of racist attacks. She has, however, told Muslims in Germany that mosque minarets should be built no higher than church steeples!
The brutal courtroom murder in Dresden occurred against the backdrop of the racist rants of French President Nicolas Sarkozy against the burqa and niqab describing both as means to oppress women that have no place in France. Among the Europeans, the French have been most vocal in their condemnation ofMuslim practices. Muslim girls are not permitted to wear the headscarf to school despite claims that France is a secular society and that there is freedom and liberty for all. Obviously these do not extend to Muslims. The atmosphere of xenophobia and Islamophobia whipped up in Europe and North America in the aftermath of 911 have directly led to such gruesome crimes no matter how much Western officials may proclaim these do not exist.
In Alexandria, meanwhile, Sher-bini’s father told the German newspaper, Bild, he wanted the killer to face the death penalty and complained that German authorities had not informed him of his daughter’s death promptly. “That our peace-loving daughter had to die for wearing a headscarf — I cannot grasp that,” the father told Bild. The Egyptian government, like other regimes in the Middle East and Muslim world, has remained mum. These governments are quick to issue statements of condemnation if any Israeli or Westerner is attacked anywhere but not when Muslims are the victims. The only exception was PresidentMahmoud Ahmedinejad of Iran who accused Germany of double standards on human rights and said it should face condemnation by the United Nations.
The Grand Mufti of Egypt, Sheikh Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi told the official MENA news agency, “The killer is a terrorist who should receive severe punishment for what he has done, something that contradicts all the values of humanity, decency and religion.” In light of the statements of German officials, this is highly unlikely. After all, what is the life of a Muslimah worth, especially one clinging in such “primitive” practices as wearing the hijab in a “modern” and “civilized” country like Germany that has the “honor” of perpetrating the holocaust against the Jewish people?