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July 28, 2009

“Where is Mum?”- Hate kills in Germany, but the media is silent

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

Dr. Mohamed ElmasryEarly in July the story unfolds: Marwa Al-Sherbini, a pregnant 32-year-old woman, is stabbed 18 in front of her three-year-old son inside a courtroom in front of the judge and other witnesses. A court security guard then shoots her husband as he tries to save her from her attacker. He ends up in hospital in critical condition. Their son is taken out of the courtroom crying, “Where is Mum?”

This story did not get the coverage it deserved, and no questions were posed:

• How did the attacker manage to bring the knife into the courtroom?

• Why did the court security guard fire his gun at the husband?

• Why do the media insist that the husband was “accidentally” shot?

If the killer were a Muslim and the woman a Jew the media would cover the story for months not days, and every Western politician of every stripe would have condemned this killing as a hate crime.

We still remember the uproar by the Western media that followed the 2004 murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Dutch-born Muslim, who was angry that one of van Gogh’s films criticized the treatment of Muslim women.

In this case, the victim was a Muslim, killed in cold blood by a white European. Born in Egypt, Al-Sherbini was a pharmacist accompanying her husband as he pursued graduate studies in Dresden. He was shot because the guard believed that a Muslim man had to be an aggressor.

On the other hand, the court, for some reason, has forbidden the release of the killer’s full name. Still identified only as Alex W, the 28-year-old Russian immigrant had been found guilty of subjecting Al-Sherbini to racial abuse—calling her a terrorist— and was fined 780 Euros (US$1100). He appealed the verdict, which is why they were in courtroom together. She was set to testify against him.

Al-Sherbini, her unborn baby, three-year-old son and husband are all victims of Islamophobia - in Western society, in Western courts, and in Western media.

“[The crime] had anti-Islamic motives [but] the reactions from politicians and media have been incomprehensibly meager,” Aiman Mazyek, general secretary of the Central Council of Muslims, told Berlin’s Tagesspiegel.

Only at its regular news conference and one week after the killing, did Thomas Steg, a spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel, describe the crime as “horrible and outrageous”—nothing about hate, nothing about the spread of Islamophobia. Nothing.

Nearly 10 days after the murder, Merkel expressed her condolences in a private talk with Egyptian President Hosni Muburak in the Italian city of L’Aquila during the G8 meeting.

Court spokesman Christian Avenarius said the murderer was a “fanatical xenophobe,” but that it was not possible to say his actions were prompted by Islamophobia, or that he was a far-right extremist.

Some media commentators blamed the attacker because he was an immigrant; others blamed the Al-Sherbini for wearing a hijab, a headscarf.

But many activists consider it a hate crime, a human rights issue, and part of an ongoing battle against Western intolerance. “You don’t have to be a Muslim to act against anti-Muslim behavior, and you don’t have to be a Jew to act against anti-Semitism," said Stephan Kramer, the general secretary of the Central Council of Jews.

Kramer sees Sherbini’s death as a grim reminder of the prevailing Islamophobia in the West. “All those who dismissed Islamophobia as a false debate in recent years are wrong,” he said.

Islamophobia in the West has a devastating effect not only on Muslim minorities but also on every citizen who cares about the well being of his or her country. It insidiously undermines every effort to sustain social and civil peace.

In her hometown of Alexandria, a street is now named after Marwa Al-Sherbini, a grim reminder for future generations that, in 2009 Europe, Islamophobia is still alive.

 
Dr. Mohamed Elmasry is Professor Emeritus of Computer Engineering, University of Waterloo. He can be reached at 

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