Marwas El-Sherbini was a common German Resident in the city of Dresden. She was originally from
Egypt and had moved to Germany with her husband, Elvy Ali Okaz in 2005. In the year 2008, her husband had successfully obtained a doctoral research position at Max Planck University. Seems like a happy family with bright prospects in the future – Isn’t it? Like many people in her locality, Sherbini used to take her 3 year old son to the public playground. It was also a normal day in the Dresden public playground. Sherbini’s son wanted to play on the swing. It was already in use by another child. So, she approached the uncle of that child to let her son play on the swing too. This man was Alex Weins, an ethnic German immigrant from Russia. Soon this little plea by a mother to obtain a fair share for her son on the swing turned into a quarrel. Alex Weins turned out to be a hateful, Islamophobic extremist. He started using racial slurs against Sherbini, calling her an ‘’Islamist whore’’ and a ‘’terrorist’’. Sherbini called the police and Alex Weins was arrested. In the subsequent trial of the case against Weins, he kept on expressing his hate against Muslims. When the Judges reproached him and called for a recess, He took out a kitchen knife and stabbed Sherbini and her husband. That poor woman, who was also pregnant at that time with her second child, succumbed to her injuries and died in the courtroom building. Her 3 year old son saw all this happening before his eyes. Her husband, critically wounded in the stabbing attack, was in a coma for two days. He was subsequently treated for several weeks in a hospital near Dresden for the stabbing injuries. There are many more details to this incident that I don’t want to go into. [http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jul/10/germany-murder-marwa-sherbini?INTCMP=ILCNETTXT3487 ]
I believe (or atleast want to believe) that this heinous incident is an isolated case. That ethnic Europeans
do not hate Muslims or would agree to any bias or injustice against them. But statistics seem to differ from my utopian thinking. According to a publication by Friedrich Ebert Foundation, more and more Europeans are shifting towards the extreme right when they talk about Islam and Muslims. A statistical study showed that more than 50% of the people in Great Britain and Netherlands think that Islam is a religion of Intolerance. 60% of the Hungarians believe that there are just too many Muslims in their country. Almost 65-75% people in Britain, Germany, France, Netherlands and Hungary think that Islamic culture has no similarity whatsoever with European culture. More than 25% of Britishers think that majority of Muslims worship terrorists as heroes and justify terrorist actions. Where will this thinking lead us? If people keep on believing that their Muslim neighbors- that shopkeeper at the corner street, that bearded taxi-driver or that Muslim female doctor who wears a headscarf at job is a sympathizer with terrorists and is trying to enforce an alien, backward culture in their country; things can really go very, very bad.
Already we hear about such incidents where Mosques are vandalized or Muslims are insulted with abusive slurs. Sadly, these incidents are happening in many of the European countries. The states where liberty and free speech are the benchmarks of democracy, many of their native minorities are finding it difficult to live a dignified life. According to an ICM/Guardian poll after a few weeks of London Bombings, two-third of Muslims living in Britain showed their intentions to return back to their country of origin. The poll also showed that tens of thousands of Muslims had suffered from increased Islamophobia, with one in five saying they or a family member had faced abuse or hostility since the attacks.
I do not want to demonize the European people by saying that their fear against Muslims is baseless and without any reality. There have been terrorist attacks in the past and many more planned attacks have been foiled by the police and intelligence. There can be two basic reasons for increasing Islamophobia in Europe. First is that, terrorism is a real threat. It has happened in the past and it can happen anytime in the future. Second is that, more and more prejudice and hatred is being sold by right-wing, extremist and opportunistic political parties and writers. Media will show anything that will sell and news about brainwashed extremist Muslims sells like hotcakes. The perceived threat of any imminent terror attack is accentuated by the Media, from the morning newspaper to the evening TV news – hatred begets hatred and as fear trickles down among the majority of Non-Muslims, it slowly transforms into prejudice against any innocent Muslim that they meet or hear about.
English Defence League (EDL) is a far-right group in Britain that organizes street protests against Muslims. Many of these protests have been violent and highly intimidating against the local Muslims. If you want to know about where such acts of mindless and irrational hatred can lead people into, just flip the pages of History. The Nazi party in Germany used the same prejudice of Germans against Jews to gain power and commit mass murders. Most of the politicians do not want to serve the people. They only want to gain power. Therefore, it is natural to think that some politicians will try to divide people on the basis of religion and inculcate a false sense of threat in the minds of gullible majority voters against the minorities.
I agree with many Europeans when they say that Islam is a backward religion that is misogynistic and promotes violence through Jihad. But there is a difference between a Religion and its followers. We know that most of the religious people just pick and choose the nicer version of their Quran or Bible. I would love to see the end of any religion in every part of the world, but this is not going to come by discriminating and stereotyping the religious people. A Gallup poll examining Muslim integration in major European countries has shown that Muslims identify more strongly with the countries they live in than the average in the population. In a research conducted by Lancaster University (Britain) on 400 pupils of 15 year age found that Muslim teenagers were more racially tolerant than their Non-Muslim classmates.
Again, I am not trying to say that only the right-wing Non-Muslim extremists and Media should be blamed for this trust deficit in the multi-cultural societies of European countries. All I am coming at is that there is a real chance of dialogue and change in the society. More and more Muslims should be brought to debate and their views should be heard. If you want to know what and how a common Muslim thinks, approach him and talk to him directly. Or else, you might ( if your only source is media and politicians) end up being a racist, radical, extremist bigot that you never wanted to be.
[In the next part of this discussion, I will try to examine the role of Muslims in increasing the feeling of Islamophobia and how there are really no Moderate Muslims.]