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

11-30

Burning of Sanctuary Stokes Fears of Spain Islamophobia

April 24, 2006 by · 1 Comment 

By Giles Tremlett

An arson attack over the Easter weekend on a Muslim sanctuary in the Spanish city of Ceuta marked another step in what some experts fear is a growing incidence of Islamophobia in the country.
Ceuta lies on a small peninsula in North Africa and a third of the population is Muslim. The burning of the Sidi Bel Abbas sanctuary comes just three months after another sanctuary in the enclave was attacked by arsonists.
Authorities in the city said that they were considering putting security cameras around mosques, shrines and buildings belonging to other religions in order to dissuade potential attackers.
The news came amid reports of a growing number of attacks across Spain.
El Pais newspaper listed a number of mosques and other Muslim targets that have been ransacked, burned or had copies of the Qur’an set alight by intruders.
Police said that extreme rightwingers and skinhead groups were responsible for almost all the attacks.
“They want Spain to have the same sort of violent reaction that the Netherlands had after the murder of film director Theo van Gogh,” one police expert told El PaÌs. “Little by little they are creating an atmosphere for this to grow.”
Spain’s 800,000 Muslims, many of them immigrants from neighbouring Morocco, have some 600 mosques around the country.
Spain’s imams, however, prefer not to publicise attacks in order to avoid copycat incidents and angry reactions from within their own community. “We try to avoid confrontation,” Moneir Mahmoud, who runs the main mosque in Madrid, explained.
Protests against the caricatures of the prophet Muhammad that appeared in the European press were kept within the walls of Spanish mosques in order to not to provoke counter-reactions.
At least four towns in the eastern region of Catalonia, however, have seen attacks on mosques and Muslim butchers, some with Molotov cocktails.
In the eastern town of Reus, police detained two car-loads of skinheads armed with Molotov cocktails as they headed towards the local mosque.
The train bombings that killed 191 people in Madrid two years ago and growing Islamophobia since the September 11 attacks were largely to blame.
“We never had things like this happen before,” Imad Alnaddar, who is in charge of the main mosque in Valencia, told El Pais.

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