Islamophobia: a neologism that refers to prejudice or discrimination against Islam or Muslims (see Islamophobia: It Exists).
What is the real meaning, the true face of Islamophobia? On July 1st, 2009, this term took on a face – the face of a young, happy Muslimah whose only crime was that she was dressed the way a Muslim lady should dress outside her home – in her hijab. By now, the story has sent shockwaves across the globe, opening people’s eyes to the stark reality and result of undue aggression and hatred towards the Muslim community.
The story of Marwa Sherbini, who fell victim to a cold-blooded stabbing at the hands of a German man, draws tears to the eyes of even those of firm heart. The circumstances surrounding her attack evokes confusion and pain – how could it possible have happened? And yet, like a nightmare, it did.
Marwa Sherbini, 33 and her husband Elwy Ali Okaz had been living in Dresden, Germany for Elwy’s scholarship at the famed Max-Planck Institute for Physics. While Elwy was wrapping up his 3-year scholarship, with his thesis due in the coming days, Marwa was raising her three year-old son. She was also three months pregnant with her second child.
The horrifying chain of events began with a small but significant event. Last summer, Marwa had taken her son to a park and while there, she found a young German man on the play-swing. She requested him to give the swing up for her 3-year old. The man’s reaction was bitter, resorting to unprovoked verbal abuse– calling her an “Islamist”, a “terrorist” and worse. Marwa, unlike so many others who face this everyday across the world, did not stay silent, and with her husband’s full support, took him to court over the incident.
A trial ensued and a District court found the German man (identified in some reports as Alex A.) guilty and fined him 780 €. The hateful Islamophobe murderer-to-be filed an appeal, and this hearing was being held last Wednesday. Here it is where the deadly assault took place. Just as Marwa had finished her testimony, the attacker moved across the courtroom and stabbed her – not once but eighteen times! EIGHTEEN TIMES. May Allah have Mercy on her!
It sends chills down the spine – how could it possibly have happened? How did the attacker manage to assault her in that way? How did he manage to enter the courtroom with the weapon? And above all – why wasn’t he intercepted or stopped during his rampage?
Marwa’s husband, Elwi Okaz, made a desperate attempt to save his wife but a policeman’s bullet hit him (accidentally), and he collapsed, unable to rescue Marwa. All the while, the young son was witnessing this butchery. If one were to imagine this scenario that unfolded in the courtroom, it would truly be sickening and despicable.
While Okaz was rushed to the hospital and is currently in intensive care with serious lung and liver injuries, it is unclear what has become of the attacker. News details are not readily available on the internet and whatever information is available is limited and centered on the incident itself.
On Monday, Okaz described how he was unable to save Marwa from the attacker: “Marwa is dead and I couldn’t save her,” the 32-year-old, told Germany’s mass-circulation newspaper Bild in the hospital where he is recovering from wounds suffered in the frenzied attack. “I’m so angry that the policeman’s bullet hit me and not the killer.”
It’s hard to imagine the pain that he and the couple’s family must be experiencing today.
Marwa’s brother, Tariq Sherbini, labeled Germany as a “cold” country and said, “extremism has no religion. My sister was killed simply because she wore the veil. This incident clearly shows that extremism is not limited to one religion or another and it is not exclusively carried out by Muslims… We are only asking for a fair punishment,” he said. “She was a religious woman who prayed and wore her headscarf, but she was killed because of her belief.”
The Reaction and Media Coverage
The incident has sparked angry protests, particularly in Germany and Egypt. “Anger is high”, said Joseph Mayton, editor of the English-language news website Bikya Masr. “Not since Egypt won the African [football] Cup have Egyptians come together under a common banner.”
The German government has received criticism for being so reluctant to condemn the attack when it first happened. The Government’s vice spokesman Thomas Steg had this to say: “In this concrete case we’ve held back from making a statement because the circumstances are not sufficiently clear enough to allow a broad political response,” he said, adding: “Should it be the case that this was anti-foreigner [and] racially motivated [the government] would condemn it in the strongest possible terms”.
Shocking, isn’t it? Only after nearly a whole week having passed did the spokesman go on to describe the incident as “horrible and outrageous”.
Even the Court spokesman Christian Avenarius had told the AFP news agency that the murderer was a “fanatical xenophobe.”
On the other hand, Stephan Kramer, General Secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, the country’s foremost Jewish group, pointed to the slow response of the German government and media: “I was surprised that the media and political reaction was so limited,” he stressed after visiting Elwy Okaz husband in hospital. “All those who dismissed Islamophobia as a false debate in recent years were wrong.”
The Hijab Martyr
She is being remembered and honored as “Shaheeda Hijab”, the Hijab Martyr and there has been immense support, according to Islamonline.net, for their proposal to organize the World Hijab Day in her memory.
The real focus is, of course, on the factors that led to this terrible tragedy. Islamophobia, unchecked and dangerous, is being cited repeatedly by Muslim groups to be the root cause of the trouble. Some are pointing to the fact that growing anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe, bolstered by illegitimate remarks on the burqa by French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, is serving as the foundation for such incidents (see this post on Sarkozy’s remarks, a post that links to many other posts on the issue of hijabophobia). This event has come to light in the media for the brutality it describes.
But the real question is: are there other Hijab martyrs out there? How are they suffering? What are the realities that Muslims face in Europe, and by extension other Muslim-minority states, just because they dress in a certain manner?
The silence in the media over this unique and harrowing incident also gives rise to another question that is on many people’s lips: what if the situation were in reverse? Or what if a Jew had been targeted in this way due to anti-Semitic sentiments? Would the coverage have been more extensive in that case?
In the words of one Twitterer: “RIP Marwa al-Sherbini. Allah Bless You! Unfortunately, if the situation was reversed, way more people would have heard about this atrocity”.
Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajiun
Photo Credit: AP