Letter for Marwa

August 20, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

marwa sherbini wedding
Egyptian Marwa El-Sherbini and her husband.

The following touching letter was published in the August 2009 edition of the Muslim Link in honour of the late Marwa El Sherbiny:

On July 1st, 2009 my friend, Marwa El Sherbiny, was killed in a German courtroom. She was there to bear witness against a man who had harassed her in a Dresden park where she was playing with her infant son. This man had called her a terrorist because she wore the hijab, the Islamic headscarf. Marwa had chosen to defend her rights and her dignity by taking legal action. She won the libel case and was in court again to testify at the appeal. Before she had the chance to do so, the same man pulled out a knife and stabbed her to death. She was 32.

When I first heard the news, all I felt was shock and anger. Anger that such a dear person was gone at such a young age; anger that her young son no longer had a mother to hold him tight. Anger that this is what ignorant, senseless hatred has brought us to. I’m angry that careless politicians, spouting fearful rhetoric, created a climate where a mother could be murdered in front of her son, in a court of law, and our society responds with a deafening silence. I imagine I will continue to feel angry for a long time to come, but constantly piercing through that anger, and often overshadowing it, is the memory of a beautiful, kind face and a tender heart.

I met Marwa in 2000 on the first of many trips to her home city of Alexandria, Egypt. One of my strongest memories from that first visit to Egypt was seeing Marwa after she had just decided to start wearing the hijab. As a “westerner” and an outsider I was shocked by her transformation, but not for the reasons one might expect. I was stunned because she was absolutely beautiful. It was not that she wasn’t beautiful before, because she was, only it had become a different sort of beauty. She shined. She looked like an angel. And Marwa was an angel in every way: incredibly strong and extraordinarily gentle. One of the first times I was struck by the beauty of Islam was when I saw it reflected in her face. I will miss one of the most generous souls that I was fortunate enough to be touched by.

Marwa had the strength to stand up for the truth, to stand against discrimination and hatred. She is an example to all Muslim women, like myself, who have silently faced the kind of insults that are sadly becoming a more common reality. Her action was an action to protect us all. I hope and pray that we can follow her example so that her struggle, her loss, will not be in vain.

I will pray for her, I will pray for her little boy, I will pray for her husband, and brother, and mother, and father, and friends – and I will pray for a better world for all of us.

Julia Williams,
Ottawa

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Two Murdered Women

July 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Walid El Hourican

* Neda and Marwa: One becomes an icon, the other is unmentioned

2009-07-17T180457Z_01_BER104_RTRMDNP_3_GERMANY

A girl holds a picture of murdered Marwa El-Sherbiny during a memorial in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin July 17, 2009.

REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

On June 20th 2009, Neda Agha Soltan was shot dead during the post-election protests in Iran. The protests occupied the largest news segments around the world, with analysts and commentators predicting the fall of the Iranian regime and the dawn of freedom breaking in “the axis of evil.”

Neda’s death became an icon of the Iranian opposition and a symbol for millions of people of the injustice of the Iranian regime and the defiance of the protesters. Neda’s death was put in context. It was taken from the personal realm of the death of an individual to the public realm of the just cause of a whole society.

On July 1st Marwa El Sherbini, an Egyptian researcher living in Germany, was stabbed to death 18 times inside a courtroom in the city of Dresden, in front of her 3-year-old son. She had won a verdict against a German man of Russian descent who had verbally assaulted her because of her veil. Her husband, who rushed in to save her when she was attacked in the courtroom, was shot by the police. Marwa’s death was not reported by any Western news media until protests in Egypt erupted after her burial. The reporting that followed focused on the protests; the murder was presented as the act of a “lone wolf,” thus depriving it of its context and its social meaning.

The fact that media are biased and choose what to report according to their own agenda is not the issue in this case. What the comparison of the two murders shows, is that European and Western societies have failed to grasp the significance and the importance of the second murder in its social, political, and historical context.

The “lone wolf” who stabbed Marwa 18 times inside the courtroom is the product of the society he lives in. If anything, the murder of Marwa should raise the discussion about the latent (perhaps not so latent anymore) racism against Muslims that has been growing in European societies in the last few decades, and noticeably so since the mid-90s.

It would be difficult to avoid relating the crime to the discussions about the banning of the Niqab, or the previous discussions about the wearing of the veil. These issues and others pertaining to the Muslim immigration in Europe have been occupying large parts of the public debates in several European countries. It would also be difficult not to notice the rapid rise of right wing populist parties to power in several European countries in the last decade, all of which have built their discourse on the fear of Islam and the “immigration problem.”

The absence of reporting, or adequate reporting of the murder, and the alarm bells that did not ring after this murder, reflect the denial in which European societies and public discourse are immersed.

While Europe preaches freedom of expression and the need to accept otherness, and while Europe preaches about the dangers of racism and sectarianism in third world countries, and while Europe warns about hate speech and anti-Semitism, we see race-driven crime, prejudice, and hate speech gaining both legitimacy and power in France, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Denmark and other democracies in the old continent. Race-driven crimes are constantly presented as exceptions within a tolerant society. However, the recurrence of exceptions puts in question their exceptional nature.

The absence of Marwa’s story from the mainstream media and the failure to start a debate about the immediate dangers of present European anti-Muslim racism shows the depth of the problem and draws us to expect a gl oomy future for Muslims in Europe. Muslims like Neda only get to the news if their story serves the dominant narrative that presents Islam as the primary threat to freedom, while Muslims like Marwa who expose the pervasive racism of the West and challenge the existing stereotypes fail to get their story told.

What is significant to note is that in Neda’s case the media accused the Iranian regime as the authority responsible for the context in which the crime was committed rather than looking for the person who actually shot her. The accused is the establishment or the institution rather than the individual shooter. However, in the case of Marwa’s murder the media were persistent in stressing on the individuality of the murderer, calling him a “lone wolf”, implying that he is a social outcast who holds no ties to the society he lives in. The murderer was given a name “Alex W.” and the institution, the society, and the establishment he lives in were taken away from the picture.

While Neda’s death enjoyed wide arrays of interpretations and readings in context, Marwa’s death was deprived of its context and was presented as a personal tragedy, featuring a madman and his victim. Meanwhile Europe keeps shifting to the right at an accelerating pace, and cultural stereotypes, failure to integrate (read: social and political alienation), miscommunication, and a growing financial crisis only nourish this trajectory and support the populist and chauvinistic discourse of various newborn and resurrected right wing parties.

In the 1930s, following the big economical crisis of the 1920s, a young populist right wing party suddenly rose to power in Germany and few predicted what was to follow. There is no realistic proof to say that Europe is a more tolerant society than any other, or to say that people necessarily learn from their history, or even that some societies are exempt from racist behavior. All the evidence points to the end of the European myth of post-war tolerance; and the media have yet to connect the dots before history repeats itself.

– Walid El Hourican be reached at: walid@menassat.com. This article appeared in CounterPunch.org.

Marwa Al-Sherbini

July 20, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

A thirty-one year-old Egyptian Muslim pharmacist plaintiff — four months pregnant with her second child — while wearing her traditional Hijab, was viciously stabbed eighteen times, and died in a Dresden courtroom on July 1st — by an alleged naturalized German attacker.  Previously, he had accused her of being a “Terrorist” because of her Islamic dress, and ripping her hijab off her head.  Unfortunately, such Islamaphobia is only too common in Europe even though Germany, with its horrendous history of instigating the Holocaust against the Jews and other minorities during World II, has some of the most stringent hate-crime laws in the world.

Her husband, who tried to intervene, was, also, stabbed by the attacker and, then, shot in the leg by a security officer who “mistook” him for the attacker.  Al-Sherbini, who was not only pregnant, but was, also, cruelly murdered in front of her three-year old son!

She was about to testify against her impending murderer when this vicious assault took place. The prosecutor at the proceedings had just described the accused as having a deep hatred against Muslims.

Your reporter is a regular listener to Deutche Velle, but they and most of the German privately owned media there largely ignored or played down the incident.  The BBC (the British Broadcasting Corporation) gave suitable examination of the episode as did the Islamic press and media.

In a press release from The Muslim Council of Great Britain (MCB), they “…urged political leaders and opinion formers to end their muted response to the recent wave of anti-Muslim violence…”

The Middle Eastern Institute’s Editor’s Blog noted that the case “…has been little noted in the Western media [especially in the U.S.]…the crime itself has outraged the Egyptian[s]…her body was met at [the] Cairo airport; thousands…turned out for her funeral in Alexandria……the opposition forces … [are]…particularly incensed [especially the Muslim Brotherhood who have called her the head-scarf martyr]…the official media as well…these popular…outcries… [have become a]…backfire on the unpopular [Mubarak] Regime…”

The Tehran Times described the unofficial response to the martyred Mother’s death in Saxony with spontaneous demonstrations on the Streets of the Iranian capital which included protests in front of Deutschland’s Persian Embassy, and a funeral in replication of hers in Alexandria both in protest and to honor to her soul.  Officially, “….The Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned the German ambassador…to protest…the murder…of the woman.  Iran criticized the German government for its slow response…and…that Germany is responsible for… insuring the security of minorities…including Muslims…”

In April 2007 I was privileged to attend a conference organized by Hatem Baziam of U.C. Berkeley on Islamaphobia.  Your scribe has never had a chance to comment about the perceptions expressed there on the European version of the phenomenon which are different than the American practice in that, because of the former European form of Colonialism over Muslims lands– which for the most part the Americans did not follow – the social class on the other side of the Atlantic include more individuals – with the right to emigrate — in competition with the traditional nationalities of their new countries for working class jobs. This does not follow in the Sherbini case because they were professionals, but that in itself might been the issue that shot off her attacker to violence in a society where its brutal former right-wing is once again reasserting itself.

The Western scholar on Islam, Peter Gottscalk, noted that “Islamophobia is the making of Muslims into enemies.”  He talked about the Danish cartoon which so outraged the Islamic ummah by portraying the followers of Mohammed (PBUH) with hedonism in contrast to Occidental secularism.  Political cartons, such as that are powerful negative weapons.  This one was applied against Islamic immigrants.  A cartoon’s symbolism can caricaturize and stereotype another people.  Fundamentalist Christians often associate Muslims with their (the “Christian’s”) simplistic theological concept of “Satan.”  Modern Islamophobia has re-manipulated the female into an oppressed one, too.   This makes the violence done to Marwa totally illogical even in the relation to Islam-bashing, and, furthermore, it became no more than gratuitous aggression.  Thus, on the whole, it is felt that Islam is an “… omnipresent…posing a threat;” therefore, “…violent
actions against…Muslims… [are made]…more palpable.”

A Mohammed Tamigid pointed out that both Islamaphobia and Islamaphillia are both elements of the West’s [neo-]Imperialism, and are part of a systemic racism.  The cultural economy  of the hate/love relationship here in the West have encouraged a carrot and stick methodology within contemporary Imperialism.  This (trade) Imperialism (which includes Globalism and neo-liberalism) has been expanding about the planet.  Even to Saxon province, where the former European Colonials are free to settle, to the resentment of the traditional citizens of the Nineteenth Century nation-state of that and other in other European regions, and with this crumbling worldwide economy can only lead to resentment, and to simplistic racist / sectarian blame – especially amongst the lower classes of the guest nations.  Islam has had differences with Europe from the beginning – both in religion and imperialistic structures.  Islamaphobia and Islamaphillia are two sides of the same coin.  “Islamaphobia only gives reasons for the powerlessness” of the Metropoles (Centers of the Empire).

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Iran Summons German Envoy for ‘Veil Martyr’

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Flag-Pins-Iran-Germany

Iran’s Foreign Ministry has summoned the German Ambassador to Tehran over the brutal murder of a Muslim Egyptian woman in a Dresden court.

Herbert Honsowitz was summoned to the Iranian Foreign Ministry to hear the strong objection of the Islamic Republic to the brutal murder of Marwa el-Sherbini.
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hassan Qashqavi on Thursday condemned el-Sherbini’s murder as a despicable act in violation of “all human rights and values.”

El-Sherbini, dubbed the “veil martyr,” was involved in a court case against her neighbor, Axel W., who was found guilty last November of insulting and abusing the woman, calling her a “terrorist.”

She was set to testify against Axel W. when he stabbed her 18 times inside the Dresden court in front of her 3-year-old son.

El-Sherbini’s husband, Elvi Ali Okaz, came to her aid but was also stabbed by the neighbor and shot in the leg by a security guard who initially mistook him for the attacker, German prosecutors said. He is now in critical condition in a German hospital.

Pointing to the German government’s delayed response to the incident, the Iranian Foreign Ministry said that it was Berlin’s responsibility to ensure the rights and security of minorities, especially Muslims, living in Germany.

The Muslim population of Dresden condemned el-Sherbini’s killing, expressing concern about the consequences of such terrorist attacks against Muslims.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry also blamed Western countries for their “double-standard” and “news boycott” regarding the case.

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A Muslim’s Murder: Double Standards, Crude Generalizations

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Why we must work harder to bridge the gulf between the culture of fear and the culture of humiliation

By Sheema Khan

The stabbing death of Marwa al-Sherbini in a German courtroom will have ramifications in the months to come. Already, there is palpable anger in Egypt, where she was buried this week. That anger will most likely spread to other parts of the Middle East and South Asia and amongst Europe’s Muslim minorities.

The Egyptian blogosphere is filled with outrage – outrage at the vicious murder of a pregnant woman in a court of law and, most notably, at the lack of attention given to this hate crime by political institutions and European media. Many note the double standard: The ghastly murder of Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam in 2004 was used as a pretext to cast suspicion on Dutch Muslims, whereas Marwa’s murder in Dresden last week is the work of a “lone wolf,” an immigrant from Russia (and thus not “really” German).

The muted reaction to the killing of a woman, in the heart of Europe, for wearing her hijab, also galls. No need to imagine the outrage if a woman is killed for not wearing a hijab – just look to the visceral reaction at the killing of Mississauga teenager Aqsa Parvez in 2007.

And while German authorities investigate whether Marwa’s murder was a hate crime, they might also want to focus on the reaction of court security. As Marwa was being stabbed, her husband tried to intervene. A court officer, apparently assuming the man with the Middle Eastern features to be the attacker, shot Marwa’s husband. He is now in critical condition.

Many do not see Marwa’s fate in isolation. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, in its 2004 annual report, said “Islamophobia continues to manifest itself in different guises. Muslim communities are the target of negative attitudes, and sometimes, violence and harassment. They suffer multiple forms of discrimination, including sometimes from certain public institutions.” The London-based Runnymede Charity, in its 2004 report Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All, found that Muslims were seen by Europeans as the “other” and as lacking in values held by Western cultures, that Islam was violent, aggressive and terroristic, and that anti-Muslim hostility was natural or normal.

So, no surprise that European Muslims are increasingly seen as “outsiders,” with a monolithic, rigid culture that’s antithetical to that of Europe. Amidst sagging popularity and a recession, French President Nicolas Sarkozy redirected attention to the burka, saying it’s not welcome in his country. Even Muslims who don’t support the burka felt uncomfortable with Mr. Sarkozy’s spotlight on their community.

And so the double standards abound. As do the crude generalizations. When the perpetrator happens to be a Muslim, reports are sensationalistic, and Muslims, along with their faith, are cast in a negative light. In the Dresden case, the mirror reaction is happening in Egypt: All Germans are somehow complicit in Marwa’s fate. In the wake of horrific violence, the primal instinct is to blame all, to cast suspicion on those we don’t know.

Yet, in the wake of such episodes, we must work even harder to bridge the gulf between what Dominique Moisi calls the culture of fear and the culture of humiliation. Otherwise, the perpetrators of hate will achieve their goal of driving people apart. As Mariane Pearl, the widow of Daniel Pearl, wrote: “They try to kill everything in you – initiative, hope, confidence, dialogue. The only way to oppose them is by demonstrating the strength they think they have taken from you. That strength is to keep on living, to keep on valuing life.”

Let’s remember that the enemy is xenophobia, which can metastasize like cancer unless society is on guard against the pernicious tendency to view others as less human. We have seen the ugly spectre of racism at Keswick High School and in Courtenay, B.C. We have our own painful history of wrongs committed against ethnic groups and indigenous communities. Yet, the better part of the human spirit tries to overcome these dark episodes with the light of justice and restitution.

Marwa’s murder cannot be in vain. She took on her perpetrator in a court of law after he called her a terrorist. Some would say she lost. It is up to us to carry on the larger quest of fighting racism and building bridges, so her son – and all children – can grow up without fear and prejudice.

sheema.khan@globeandmail.com

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