Al-Ahram Weekly Online   9 - 15 July 2009
Issue No. 955
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Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Bloodbath in court

The murder of Marwa El-Sherbini underlines the urgent need to combat European racism, writes Doaa El-Bey

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In an outpouring of national grief, thousands came out in Alexandria to mourn the death of Marwa El-Sherbini, a 31-year-old mother who was stabbed to death in a German court by an assailant she had sued after he had called her a terrorist because of her headscarf. In Alexandria, El-Sherbini's birthplace, huge crowds, which included her bereaved mother, gathered around the coffin before El-Sherbini was laid to rest

"The attacker was a Russian immigrant. So this is yet another case of a non-Western immigrant killing another non-Western immigrant. This means that none of us in the West are to blame for this, except that we should stop letting all those non-Westerners in as they are just too much trouble."

The reaction of an anonymous European citizen commenting on Euroislam website on the death of Marwa Al-Sherbini, killed in a German court in Dresden, is precisely the kind of opinion that led to her murder in the first place.

El-Sherbini was stabbed 18 times in front of her three-year-old son in a German court in Dresden. Her husband was also stabbed and shot when he went to the aid of his wife. She was giving evidence at the time against her attacker, 28- year-old Alex W. A Russian of German descent who immigrated to Germany in 2003, Alex W had been found guilty of subjecting El-Sherbini to racial abuse last November and fined. He appealed the verdict, which is why they were in court together. He remains in detention and prosecutors have opened an investigation on suspicion of murder.

"It is not unexpected that Europe, which produced fascism and Zionism and caused the first and second world wars produces racism against the other," says political activist Amin Iskandar.

Racism, especially against Muslims, is, he argues, directly related to politics. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union the US, as the only superpower, tried hard to find an imaginary enemy. It found it in extremist Islamic groups.

The spread of hatred and fanaticism against the other has also been fanned by growing economic problems in Europe, the migration of Eastern Europeans and Muslims to the West, and Islamophobic statements issued by politicians for election purposes.

Egyptian diplomat Mahmoud Shukri points to the emergence of new terminology like "Islamic terrorism", wheeled out whenever a terrorist operation takes place and which conflates terror with all Muslims.

The Egyptian embassy in Germany has set up a team to follow the investigations. According to the Egyptian ambassador in Germany, Ramzy Ezzeddin, the first priority was to help El-Sherbini's family. First her body was shipped to Alexandria, her birthplace, and her son was handed to a family member while her husband is being treated in a hospital in Germany where his case is critical but slowly improving. The embassy aims to pursue the case on both criminal and civil tracks. They want to ensure the attacker is punished for killing El-Sherbini and her unborn child -- the victim was three months pregnant when she died -- and to pursue compensation for her son.

"We will follow the investigations with the German authorities and decide on our next step accordingly," Ezzeddin said in a telephone interview with Al-Ahram Weekly.

The incident, which was widely covered by the Egyptian media, received only brief mention in Germany, something Shukri also attributes to inherent racism. He criticises the media, including newspapers in Egypt, for failing to call the attacker a terrorist.

"He is not an extremist, he's a terrorist. His thoughts were translated into a bloody action that took the life of an innocent person. It has also terrorised other Muslims into not wearing head scarves or practising Islamic rituals in public."

Shukri believes that El-Sherbini's murder should become a rallying call for human rights activists. She should be celebrated as a symbol of the ongoing battle against Western intolerance. That fight, he says, will not only be for Islam but for human rights in general, for the rights of Muslims to practise their religion freely, "just as Indians are free to wear a sari and Sikhs are free to wear turbans".

Iskandar agrees that human rights organisations need to play an active role in talking Islamophobia but warned against approaching the problem from a purely Islamic perspective.

"Racist as it is, this incident should not be approached from a religious basis but on one of human rights, discrimination against a human being, equal rights for all human beings regardless of their religion, colour or race."

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