If you haven't heard of this case by now (which is entirely possible due to subjectivity of the global media), it's one of heartbreak and injustice. As the story goes, Marwa al-Sherbini was a pharmacist who lived in Germany with her husband and three-year-old son. Last year, she was at the park with her son and was verbally abused by a Russian living in Germany (Alex W.). She asked him to give up a swing for her son, to which he responded by calling her an "Islamist", a "terrorist", and a profanity.
Following the incident, al-Sherbini sued and won against her attacker. On July 1, 2009, however, another hearing in the case took place. Just as Mrs. al-Sherbini was going to testify against Alex W., he lunged at her and stabbed her 18 times in front of her family. Yes, you read that correctly, 18 times. Her husband Elwi Okaz attempted to protect her in vain and ended up accidentally being shot by a security guard in the midst of the chaos. Many German courts, including that in Dresden where the attack occurred, have no security checks at their entrance.
The outrage in her native Egypt was profound and brought together people from completely different sides of the Egyptian social spectrum. The case has united Egyptian bloggers, who typically cannot agree on anything. Her funeral was attended by members of parliament, a representative on behalf of Egypt's Coptic Christians, a minister, and thousands of working class citizens. Her story became known as that of the Hijab Martyr.
Was Marwa al-Sherbini brutally murdered because she wore the Islamic Hijab? We may never truly know, but given the social and political climate in Europe, there's a very good chance the constant dehumanization of Muslims was a factor. The recent electoral gains of fanatical Far Right groups in Europe who campaigned on the basis that Islam was "backward" and had no place in Europe testify to this. More recently, Muslim women all over the West were put at ease knowing that French President Nicolas Sarkozy was on a mission to liberate us by banning the Burqa.
Many Muslim pundits have asked the "What if it was an X person killed by a Muslim instead?" question. That question is pointless, and it will not bring any justice to Marwa al-Sherbini. Her story is unique and compelling in itself that we do not need to bring other in cases. The media coverage initially was relatively disappointing and would have been much more intense given different circumstances. However, that doesn't mean we should obsess over the attention given to the case and forget the actual issue at hand. I'm going to out on a limb and say that Alex W. was a xenophobe who probably was more or less an isolated case, even though the political climate in Europe stands to produce countless other Alex W's.
Marwa al-Sherbini's message is that of humanity and perseverance. She wasn't about to let one fanatical maniac prevent her or her family from achieving their dreams and hopes. The countless Muslims who have come to praise her cause are disregarding what she stood up for by making blatant and sometimes racist comments about Germans or non-Muslims in the west. Her husband was visited in the hospital by Stephan Kramer, the general secretary of the Jewish Council in Germany. His statements about the situation did more justice to the case than those of Muslims who chanted "Death to Germany", among other slogans.
"You don't have to be Muslim to oppose anti-Muslim behavior, and you don't have to be Jewish to oppose anti-Semitism," said Kramer. "We must stand together against such inhumanity."
On July 11, a public memorial organized by local civil rights groups was held at Dresden City Hall to honor Marwa al-Sherbini. It was attended by over 1000 people, including state officials and many Germans who were appalled by the events. Tobias Weidlich, 29 who was joined by his two young daughters, expressed his shock, "The brutality and horror of this crime is unbelievable," he said. A placard held at the memorial read "Racism Kills".
Indeed, Marwa al-Sherbini took a stand against racism. Moreover, the actions of Alex W. and those who take part in racist attacks seek to instill a fear in the victims and in society, a fear so intimidating that it will stop us from addressing such problems. Alex W.'s attack wasn't just against Muslims, but against all decent and civilized people, and the response shown at the memorial proved that intolerance will not triumph.
The question now remains: how do we as a society ensure that Marwa al-Sherbini's son grows up in a world free of the hatred that stole his mother from him?
Is this story new to you or have you heard about it before now? Why do you think it has not been broad casted around the world? Do you think this story would be more popular if it happened to a non-Muslim woman? Leave your comment and tell us what you think.