The Murder of Marwa El-Sherbini

2009

Germany

Race & Ethnicity Violence

Together with her husband and her three-year-old son, the Egyptian pharmacist Marwa El-Sherbini had lived in Germany for several years. During a trial in a Dresden courtroom on July 1, 2009, to which she had been called as a witness, she was stabbed to death by the defendant Alexander W.

After Alexander W. had, a year prior, verbally assaulted El-Sherbini as a “terrorist” and “Islamist”, he was formally charged with defamation. As he refused to pay the fine levied against him, the state prosecutor, determining the penalty to be insufficient, initiated appellate proceedings in which the then pregnant El-Sherbini was invited to give testimony. During the court hearing on July 1, 2009, the defendant brandished a knife and stabbed the witness 18 times. El-Sherbini succumbed to her injuries at the scene, a German court of law in Dresden. As her husband had rushed to her side, he too was repeatedly stabbed, before being shot in the thigh by a police officer, who had mistaken him for the attacker. The entire scene was witnessed by the judge, the state attorney, several courtroom officers and the three-year-old son of the victim.

Months later, the perpetrator was sentenced to life in prison. Although the racist and Islamophobic elements of the crime are unmistakable, the political and media response largely treated it as a personal tragedy without a background of racism, as is often the case in dealing with instances of violent crime perpetrated by right-wing extremist elements [see: Revelation of NSU murders, 2011]. Only as a result of public pressure from abroad did the reporting on this case gradually begin to change, prompting a broader debate on the negative attitudes in German society towards Islam and its adherents, which massively intensified after September 11, 2001 [see: September 11 and anti-muslim racism, 2001]. Numerous scientific publications and media reports have since appeared dealing with the issues of Islamophobia and anti-muslim racism. They indicate a clear increase in anti-Islamic attitudes among respondents in Germany.