Marwa El-Sherbiny, a pharmacist and ex-handball star, was three months pregnant when she was stabbed to death inside a German courtroom this month. The alleged murderer was the defendant appealing an earlier conviction for insulting Marwa in a public playground and calling her a terrorist. She was killed in front of her three-year-old son and her husband who, coming to her aid, was also stabbed then erroneously shot by the police.
“Who killed Marwa El-Sherbiny?” looks like an irrelevant question since there seems to be little doubt that the alleged killer, Alex W. (not identified by full name in line with common practice of German authorities and media concerning criminal suspects) is the culprit. However, looking beyond Alex W. is more important. As a Canadian, I am particularly interested in identifying those in Canada who are related in any way to this hate crime. I ask, who in Canada played a role, knowingly or unknowingly, in Marwa’s horrific death?
Hatred against Muslims is growing in Canada, as it is in much of the Western world, due to many factors, the foremost of which are two, governments’ interest in fuelling the so-called “War Against Terrorism”, and the campaigns by self-appointed experts to “expose” the Muslim danger.
Both of these are alive and well in Canada. After the end of the Bush era and the rapprochement towards Muslims and Arabs Obama is adopting, the way our government handles Arab and Muslim matters stands out in North America. Our government rarely comes to the aid of its Arab/Muslim citizens when they face trouble abroad till ordered to do so by the courts (to bring Abousfian Abdelrazik home from Sudan) and in some cases it even appeals such court rulings (to bring Omar Khadr home from Guantanamo). Our government holds Arab Muslim men (and only Arab Muslim men) under “Security Certificates” without informing them of the evidence against them. Our minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism cancelled funding for a language program ran by an Arab organization because he was criticized by the head of the organization in clear abuse of authority (funding of language programs for immigrants efficiently run by the Canadian Arab Federation was cancelled).
In Quebec the Muslim community was the target of many attacks, as were other minorities, throughout the hearings of the Bouchard-Taylor commission in 2007 and 2008. When the committee issued its recommendations, over a year ago now, they were welcome by the Muslim community yet to date no research into Islamophobia was conducted nor was a "vigorous campaign" to raise awareness of interculturalism in Quebec society launched as Bouchard-Taylor recommended. This exposes the will of the Quebec government towards the Muslim community as much as the situation on the ground does. The shooting death of Mohamed-Anas Bennis by Montreal police in 2006 has not yet seen a proper investigation despite many calls, campaigns and protests.
Beyond the official positions, a number of individuals, many of whom are of Muslim background, are very vocal in our media spreading fear of Islam and Muslims. Our media often gives disproportionate space to such individuals and is usually reluctant to allow the other point of view to be presented (Maclean’s refusing to allow the Canadian Islamic Congress to respond to Islamophobia). In many cases, the arguments presented by such “reformers” would have been quite constructive and would be very courageous if they were to present them in Muslim countries. Unfortunately, most of them left the Muslim world and brought their negative experiences to Canada where it is neither courageous nor constructive to voice such opinions. Repeating such criticism locally only helps fuel hate against our Muslim community as well as Muslims worldwide and rarely helps bringing about change or reform anywhere.
The applaud anyone attacking Islam or Muslims receives these days makes it difficult for them to resist going further in their attacks and criticism, let alone rethink or retract their positions even if they conclude that they were mistaken or that they went too far.
In today’s global village actions and words by anyone, official or not, here in Canada can and does have an effect on what happens far beyond our borders. Every one of us should be very careful as to what his or her actions and words may bring to an innocent person anywhere in the world.
This time the tragedy happened to Marwa in Germany and not to a Muslim person in Canada. Do we have to wait till it is repeated in a park in Montreal, a street in Toronto or a classroom somewhere in this country to feel and reflect on the tragedy? Do we have we wait for a similar incident to happen in our backyard to acknowledge that there is a problem? I hope not.
Our governments have made a habit of apologizing to groups of citizens for wrongs committed against them due to the governments’ actions, or inaction, years, decades or centuries after the harm is done and generally after the damage becomes irreversible. This is pathetic especially when the damage is happening in front of our eyes and the writing is clear on the wall showing us that wrong is being done here and now.
It is time that the government of Canada does something now to stop the Islamophobia that is spreading and prevent tragedies that are waiting to happen to the Muslim and Arab communities if it does nothing.