The first news agency reports on the murder of Marwa al-Sherbini informed the German public that a defendant had murdered a witness in the district court of Dresden. The reason was a quarrel in a children’s playground.
No mention that the witness was a Muslim woman. No mention that the playground quarrel had culminated in the defendant shouting at the woman “Islamist”, “Muslim bitch” and “terrorist”. The German press reported on the case on the back page and fell asleep. A few days later it was awakened by thousands of Egyptians who protested vociferously against the “Islamophobia” of the Germans. Islamophobic? Us? Suddenly the German federal government, which had kept silent for nearly a week, found words of sorrow. And journalists started to write long articles about the astonishing reactions in Egypt.
I don’t think Marwa’s murder proves German “Islamophobia”. But it proves a lack of interest in the reality of today’s German society that is disturbing. And the more one thinks about it, the more disturbing it gets.
Marwa had worked in a pharmacy in Dresden and her husband worked at the Max-Planck-Institut for pharmacology. Why didn’t their colleagues stand up and call the whole incident what it was: a scandal? And why didn’t the press ask any questions? There was reason enough. As the Berlin-based newspaper, Der Tagesspiegel, has now reported, the defendant, the Russian-German Alexander W, had asked Marwa in the courtroom: “Do you have a right to be in Germany at all?” Then he threatened her: “When the NPD comes to power, there’ll be an end to that. I voted NPD.”
The journalists could have reminded their readership that the extreme-right NPD had secured 5.1% of the votes in council elections in Saxony in June 2008. Dresden, where the murder took place, is the capital of Saxony. They could have reminded their readers that nearly 50% of east Germans and a quarter of west Germans agree with xenophobic statements – as a study by the Friedrich Ebert trust found in 2008. The journalists could have written about the poor integration of Russian-Germans, but also about their racism. They could have asked if Marwa would have been killed had she not worn a headscarf… and what that means for German society. They could have asked – as an Egyptian did – why Marwa’s husband, while he was trying to help his wife, was shot and wounded by a policeman in the courtroom. Because he was not blond-haired?
And the journalists could have asked why the spokeswoman of the court, in her first press release, did not mention the nationality and religion of the victim – which in this special case played a significant role in the murder.
But no such questions were asked. The press treated the case as if it was something banal. Just one of these tragic incidents one cannot really understand. It was not until the demonstrations in Cairo that the details were published. And then the German press very quickly had other worries. One day after the demonstrations a radio host called Karim al-Gawhary, the Cairo correspondent of a German newspaper, and asked him: “How dangerous is it now for German tourists in Egypt?”
Anja Seeliger, a German journalist.