Martyr of the Hijab: Marwa Sherbini, a Walking Veil?

This post has been revised and updated —ed.

Marwa Sherbini was assaulted and murdered—not just assaulted and murdered but murdered in plain daylight—not just daylight but in a courtroom in the democratic, egalitarian Western nation of Germany. This was not a remote village in Somalia, or a Taliban-controlled village in Pakistan, or any random militia-ruled town without paved roads, police, emergency hotlines, elevators and cell-phones. It was a courtroom in Dresden. It was within the very space where justice is delivered.

Alex W. saw her as a walking veil which reduced her to a terrorist in his eyes. She was not a walking veil, nor should her supporters reduce her to one. She was a human being. Alex insulted her for her headscarf and her religion. She and her husband, trusting in the justice system, sought state protection from such attacks.

Well, Alex W. showed Marwa. He showed her and immigrants all over the world, to keep their mouths shut, to suck it up, and to deal with verbal insults or even physical ones—but to withdraw to their holes and preserve their own and their children’s lives. To protest, to defend yourselves to speak out, is dangerous, and could mean death.

Marwa was a person. She was a former handball champion. She loved her child and her eyes brightened when she saw him smile. Her husband would lay down his life for her. She may have enjoyed soccer, preferred Coke over Pepsi, struggled with Windows Vista, hated acrylic sweaters, loved the smell of rain, missed her family in Egypt and cried when they called her, and suffered from dust allergies. She was a living human being—at least until the hatred channeled through Alex W. struck her down.

Shot her? No. Not so easy. Stabbed her. In a courtroom. Once? Twice? No, 18 times.

She was a wife, whose husband is in critical condition after trying to save her life. His misfortune deserves mention: it seems he was injured both by Alex W. and by a policeman’s shots.

She was a mother. Her three-year-old child, Mustafa, was in the courtroom when she was murdered. My own daughter is three. She is fully aware of any pain and any anxiety I experience. She won’t let a physician or a hair-dresser touch me without registering loud protest. I cannot imagine the trauma this child experienced when his mother was killed before his eyes. I don’t want to imagine what this will do to his sense of self and security.

She was the mother of a murdered child, too. The fetus in her womb was three months old. It may have been a girl. The little girl might have had curly black hair and dimples, an excellent singing voice, and an unfortunate love for the PowerPuff Girls. But she is far below dust now.

I cannot understand why the news article I read on this subject merely records how newspapers in the “Muslim world” have expressed outrage for the martyr of the hijab. I cannot understand why German and indeed European newspapers, politicians, feminists, mothers, husbands, citizens have not made themselves heard. Where are their voices? Where is their outrage? How come a BBC piece does not find their voices either audible or newsworthy? Muslims are justly asked why they don’t protest against extremism and sexism in their communities. Is it fair to ask for similar condemnation of violence and murder in plain sight of law enforcement and in the spaces of law and justice?

As a Pakistani in the US, I am shocked and terrified by the recent bomb blasts in Pakistani cities. I am shaken to the core by the seeming frailty of law enforcement before armed militants. I protest and register my shock. My sympathies lie with the German citizenry: this is after all an attack on their sense of security too. If one man full of hate can murder a woman in a courtroom, where one is supposedly safer than anywhere else, who is safe in Dresden? Who can plead for justice anymore, without fearing for their lives?