Editorial: Marwa's tragic death

Rania Al Malky
6 Min Read

CAIRO: Three-year-old Moustafa watched as his mother was stabbed to death and his father was shot trying to save her in a German courtroom.

The impact of this traumatizing scene on that child cannot be over-exaggerated. In a matter of minutes, he witnessed the brutal slaying on his source of love and affection and the shooting of his source of security.

The blood alone is enough to shake the most hardened of grown-ups and to induce the most horrifying of nightmares. More than anything else, this shocking murder is the tragedy of a little boy who suddenly found himself alone, thrust among strangers after experiencing an atrocity that will leave an indelible mark on his mind and soul.

The Islamophobic, xenophobic murder of 32-year-old Egyptian pharmacist Marwa Al-Sherbini, who was stabbed to death in a court in the northern German city of Dresden over a week ago shortly before she was to give evidence in an appeal lodged by her attacker, has infuriated the Muslims all over the world, perhaps the same way the Danish cartoons had done.

Her murderer, a 28-year-old German man of Russian descent, identified only as Axel W., had been convicted and fined after calling her a “terrorist for wearing the hijab. It later transpired that he was her neighbor and that the incident in the park last August wasn’t the first time he had exhibited his abusive, neo-Nazi tendencies. At another instance, he had even pulled off her headscarf.

When she took him to court for slander, he was only fined ?780, which the prosecutor appealed because he deemed the compensation too little and decided to take the case to a higher court. How this murderer was able to enter a courtroom with a knife is beyond my comprehension.

In Egypt we are certainly used to fights breaking out between opponents in a court cases either inside or right outside the courtroom, but it never reaches physical assault with a white weapon. It’s hard to imagine how this would happen in the “first world where law and order prevail; where (theoretically) all are equal before the law and court security guards are immune from the pernicious act of racial profiling.

That said, I truly believe that Marwa’s murderer is an extreme case that doesn’t reflect the majority. True that Islamophobia has been on the rise ever since George W. Bush declared a “crusade on terrorism, cheer-led by a media machine that showed no scruples about conflating terrorism with Islam and hence making a potential target of Muslims who overtly express their faith. But there’s a huge difference between discrimination in the job market or workplace and murder incited by racial or religious hatred.

Many commentators on the case were furious about the way Axel W. was portrayed as a “lone wolf compared to the portrayal of the murderer of Theo Van Gogh, the filmmaker who was stabbed to death by a Muslim extremist in Holland for his offensive film about women in Islam. They say that while the Van Gogh crime was used to cast suspicion on Dutch Muslims, Marwa’s murder was depicted as an isolated case.

The double standard is certainly there but I believe that in its essence the entire comparison is invalid. Marwa’s case should not be compared to that of Van Gogh on any level because what happened to her was a lot more atrocious. I’m definitely not saying that Van Gogh had it coming, but he was a public figure, a self-proclaimed provocateur who rejected every form of religion and incurred the anger of leading members of the Jewish community because of his public criticism of the Jews’ preoccupation with Auschwitz.

At some point he was likely to go a little too far and at some point that was bound to cost him his life, whether at the hands of a Muslim, Christian or Jewish extremist.

Marwa, however, harmed no one. She was the innocent victim of unprovoked hatred – pure and simple. While her murder has brought home the growing anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe, it should not be used as an excuse to make sweeping generalizations about the whole of Western society vis-à-vis Muslims, both in their own communities and in majority Muslim countries.

A backlash against foreigners in Egypt could only reinforce false claims that a clash of civilizations is at play and will lead to nothing but more gratuitous violence. So let’s just stop calling Marwa the “hijab martyr because it is not the case. She was the victim of an Islamophobe and a xenophobe who would have found any pretext to attack her, whether or not she covered her hair.

This terrible crime is a wake-up call for liberal, secular Europe which must realize that the time has come to work harder on integrating their Muslim minorities and strengthening the focus on inter-faith dialogue to kill the slightest likelihood that such a case would ever be repeated.

May she rest in peace.

Rania Al Malky is the Chief Editor of Daily News Egypt.

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