'Veil murder' prompts anger, soul searching in Germany

10th July 2009, Comments 0 comments

The unemployed suspect, identified only as Alex W. and who arrived in Germany in 2003, was a "fanatical xenophobe."

Berlin -- The fatal stabbing of a pregnant veiled Egyptian woman, apparently killed because she was a Muslim, has prompted outrage in her home country but also soul-searching in Germany.

On July 1, a 28-year-old Russian-born German, stabbed 31-year-old Marwa El-Sherbini in front of her husband and three-year-old son as she gave evidence against him in a courtroom in the eastern city of Dresden.

She was three months pregnant. Her assailant has been charged with murder and is currently undergoing a psychiatric examination in prison.

Thousands of angry mourners attended her funeral on Monday in her hometown of Alexandria and Egypt's top cleric declared her a "martyr" and called for the maximum penalty for the attacker.

The unemployed man, identified only as Alex W. and who arrived in Germany in 2003, was a "fanatical xenophobe," court spokesman Christian Avenarius told AFP.

However, Avenarius added it was not possible to say his actions were prompted by "Islamophobia," nor that he was a far-right extremist.

Groups representing the Muslim community in Germany, however, said there was no doubt in their mind that she was murdered because she was a Muslim, dubbing it a "veil murder".

They have called on Muslims to "pray for Marwa" during Friday prayers. Weekend demonstrations were also planned.

A muted initial reaction from Berlin has enraged both the domestic Muslim population and people in Cairo, where small demonstrations have been held outside the German embassy accusing the West of Islamophobia.

Stephan Kramer, general secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, the country's foremost Jewish group, criticised the response of politicians and the media to the stabbing.

After a hospital visit to Sherbini's husband, who was accidentally shot by police as he leapt to his wife's aid, Kramer said: "I was surprised that the media and political reaction was so limited."

In the aftermath of the killing, the German media focused more on the issue of court security, linking it to an incident in April when a 60-year-old man shot dead his sister-in-law in court over an inheritance dispute.

The Berlin-based daily Der Tagesspiegel asked on Thursday: "Why was the death of a veiled woman, who was not the victim of an 'honour crime', only news in brief for a whole week?"

"Is it because this death does not enter our frame of reference?" the paper added.

Political reaction was also a long time in coming. A week after the killing, Thomas Steg, a spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel, asked about the crime at a regular press briefing, said: "This was a horrible and outrageous act."

Merkel spoke with Egyptian President Hosni Muburak about the killing in the Italian city of L'Aquila, where world leaders gathered for a Group of Eight (G8) meeting.

An Egyptian embassy official in Italy said she expressed her condolences. Mubarak also asked that German courts deal with the case rapidly.

In Berlin, the general secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany said the killing was proof that "all those who dismissed Islamophobia as a false debate in recent years were wrong".

The recent building of mosques in Germany has raised a political storm, fuelled by far-right extremists, who organised an "anti-Islamisation" conference in Cologne.


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