The "veil issue" has drawn its share of debate between objectors and supporters, each listing reasons focusing on women’s freedom, or the supposed necessities of integration, but the recent tragic and shocking case of Marwa Sherbini’s public murder in a Dresden courtroom has once again brought symbolic Islamic dress a as target for hate-crime to the forefront of discourse.
Egyptian-born Sherbini, 32, was a pharmacist, a wife, mother of a three-year-old son (and pregnant with her second child) who had accompanied her husband to Germany last year, where he was completing his PhD on a scholarship program. But her life was marred by repeated insults from Alex Walker, a 28-year-old German racist of Russian origin, who was later described by the prosecutor in Dresden as "driven by a deep hatred of Muslims."
Walker’s extreme hatred led him to stab Sherbini 18 times in the very courtroom where she’d testified against his insults. When her husband tried to intervene and save her life, he was also stabbed three times. In a tragic twist to this hate-crime, court security officers shot her husband; in hospital, he testified that the guards mistook him for the attacker because he was not blond.
The Egyptian Embassy has now initiated lawsuits and German authorities are in the process of investigating the failure of the Dresden court security’s failure to defend the pregnant Marwa and her husband.
The July 1 stabbing triggered strong waves of reaction in both Europe and Egypt. The London-based Assembly for the Protection of Hijab (the headscarf that many Muslim women choose to wear) announced that it plans to change International Hijab Solidarity Day from September (the month that originally marked the French law banning girls from wearing the hijab in school) to July 1, in recognition of Marwa Sherbini’s death.
Abeer Pharaon, chair of the Assembly for the Protection of Hijab commented; "[Marwa] Sherbini is not only a hijab martyr, but also a victim of Islamophobia, from which European Muslims are suffering."
Sami Dabbah, spokesman for the Coalition Against Islamophobia stated; "What happened to her is very dangerous. We had warned that one day we will see a Muslim woman being killed because of her hijab."
Amina Nusser, Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Al-Azhar University, supports the proposal of World Hijab Day, and the Mayor of Sherbini’s native city of Alexandria in Egypt renamed a street in her memory. More than 1,000 Muslims attended her funeral in Germany.
The little coverage this incident received, both in German and other Western media has been a key reason for wide criticism by Muslims in Europe and elsewhere, who feel that there is a negative disparity between public reaction to the tragic fate of an innocent young woman and the sensational attention routinely given to crimes of any kind committed by Muslims. Several days following Sherbini’s murder, German government spokesman Thomas Steg offered the bland assurance that if the attack was indeed racist, the government "naturally condemns this in the strongest terms."
This tragedy highlights the critical role of news and opinion media can play, not only by drawing attention to events, but also by ignoring them. It also challenges the principle of Multiculturalism in every country. Objectivity and respect for diversity are not empty slogans to be inserted into speeches; they are essential principles that should be fully integrated into every national education system and codes of practice. That is the only way to protect us all against the build-up of destructive hate against any group in our society.