11 July 2009

Murder in Dresden

Egypt has recently witnessed a wave of demonstrations over the Islamophobic murder in Dresden of Marwa el-Sherbini, a 32-year-old Egyptian pharmacist who had been living there with her graduate student husband and her son.

Last year, in a dispute over a swing in a public park, of all things, the murderer, a Russian immigrant from Perm named Alex W., yelled out "terrorist" and "Islamist whore" at Marwa, the reason being that she was wearing a headscarf. She took him to court for the insults, and, in November 2008, Alex was fined €780 (TL 1,687 / US$ 1,087) for his actions. There are different versions of what happened next. According to the Guardian, Alex appealed the verdict; according to Wikipedia, it was the public prosecutor who lodged the appeal, since he considered the penalty meted out to Alex to have been too light.

Then, on 1 July, the appeal was heard. Marwa was called to the witness stand to testify, following which the 28-year-old Alex grabbed a knife, approached her, and stabbed her 18 (!) times, killing her on the spot in front of her three-year-old son. When her husband, Elvi Ali Okaz, ran over to help his stricken wife, a policeman shot at him, critically wounding him. Apparently, the policeman couldn't tell which one was the husband, and which the attacker. Marwa was three months pregnant when she was killed.

The most mind-bogglingly unbelievable fact in this tragedy is that Alex was not prevented from bringing his knife into the courtroom, even though he was the defendant! You'd think that, at an appeal, a defendant could possibly have a grudge against the plaintiff, wouldn't you? You'd think that the state would want to ensure the plaintiff's safety, wouldn't you? Well, in this case, no such thing was done. The result is a family destroyed.

The second thing is this. Even after such a clearly horrific case of murderous hatred against an innocent Muslim, the only motivation being that she was a Muslim, the German government is reluctant to treat it as such. According to the Guardian, Thomas Steg, the vice-spokesman of the German government (apparently, the spokesman is too important to be making a comment on this matter) said that "In this case... the circumstances are not sufficiently clear enough to allow a broad political response. Should it be the case that this was anti-foreigner [and] racially motivated, [the government] would condemn it in the strongest possible terms."

So there you have it. IF it were to be proved that Alex hated Marwa for being different, ONLY THEN would the government condemn her murder "in the strongest possible terms". And do notice how Steg mentioned the hatred of foreigners and people of other races as potential (though apparently unproven) motivating factors, but did not say a word about the actual cause, proven by Alex's words: the hatred of Islam and Muslims, that is, Islamophobia. Alex had been taken to court not for calling Marwa a "dirty foreigner" or a "dirty black" or anything of the sort. No, he called Marwa (who was actually quite fair-skinned) an "Islamist whore" a few months before killing her. The fact that the Merkel government refuses to admit this simple fact is unconscionable.

The lack of clear, unequivocal condemnation of the murder not only by the German government, but also by other German politicians, as well as the German media, has led Aiman Mazyek, the secretary general of the Central Council of Muslims (of Germany) and Stephen Kramer, the secretary general of the Central Council of Jews, to issue a joint statement calling for more attention to be given to the murder.

Marwa has been dubbed Shahidat al-Hijab (the Headscarf Martyr) in Egypt. Some people have scoffed at the title, saying it's divisive and not reflective of reality, since Marwa's life should not be reduced to her clothes. Personally, I think "Headscarf Martyr" is, in fact, a very appropriate title for her. She was a woman with a diverse range of interests, but she was killed for one thing: for being a Muslim who was not afraid to stand up for herself. She was killed for wearing a headscarf and refusing to bow to fear. And that makes me proud to be her brother in faith.

That is not to say, though, that anger should be allowed to carry the day. At Marwa's funeral in Alexandria on 6 July, mourners chanted things like "Germans are the enemies of God." That is going way too far. I can understand the distress that something like this brings, but we should always distinguish between people with blood on their hands and the society those people come from or live in. Just as the existence of Muslim murderers does not make everyone in Muslim countries the "enemies of God", so equally the existence of a German or, in fact, a Russian murderer does not make Germans or Russians into God's enemies. This much should be obvious.

However, just as many in the West call for introspection in Muslim societies (and sometimes rightly so) when a terrorist calling himself a Muslim kills innocent people, so should Germany and Russia, Dresden and Perm, take a deep breath and think for a minute about where things have gone wrong, and what could be done to improve them, starting, perhaps, from trying a bit harder to see your neighbour for the human being she is.

[This post was written in Istanbul.]

No comments:

Something Even More Magical

In other news...