From Demonization to Objectification: Killing the Burqa

Marwa el-Sherbini, an Egyptian woman living in Germany, is being described as the “headscarf martyr.” Even in her death, she is nothing more than a piece of cloth. Shabana Mir writes the most humanizing piece on this woman I have read. The fact of the matter is that Marwa el-Sherbini was killed because she had become an object.

The hijab, burqa, niqab, chador, etc., have all become metonym for the Muslim female. The Wall Street Journal reports that Predator drone attacks are tactical because it can see a “burqa from 20,000 feet,” (h/t Manan Ahmed of Chapati Mystery); women cannot be seen from 20,000 feet, but burqas can. We can protect the innocent by protecting the cloth.

The converse of protecting the cloth is that we can destroy a people by destroying the cloth. Alex W. did not stab a person or a fetus. He stabbed a piece of cloth. This cloth had been bothering him since 2003, when it first appeared in his vision. It upset him, and it had to be cut. Stab it 18 times, in a courtroom, and it becomes diaphanous, almost unreal. It moves away from this world. The world is no longer opaque, but clear. The guard had to shoot the man who wanted to protect the cloth. A cloth is worthless, but the man who was cutting it was human, and had to be protected.

When half of 1.6 billion believers can be treated as nothing more than a cloth, even when many do not wear that cloth, it is not a stretch to marginalize the half of the believers. The hijab has gone from symbol to object, and the people associated with it are that object. G. Marranci offers a more detailed exploration of the mechanism involved.

My conclusion is that we have moved beyond demonization and vilification, which implies that your enemy is still a living being, into objectification. Things to be broken, tossed aside, remade, fixed, constructed over and over, to satisfy an urge. Pres. Sarkozy can speak of banning the burqa, but what he means is controlling the Muslim. The cloth and the people are the same. He learned his lesson when he spoke his mind about the burning banlieues when he called the residents “scum.”

The death of Marwa el-Sherbini was the death of a woman. Do not forget that. Her murder is a portent. The language of hatred and murder is becoming normalized. The shooting at the Holocaust Museum in DC is caused by the same virulent hatred that spawned Marwa’s murder. Until we understand how all hatred is interconnected, we simply play into the hands of those who hate.