After the tragic murder of Dr. Marwa el-Sherbini, the majority of Egyptian newspapers had given broad coverage to her death, describing the veiled woman as a "martyr" and suggesting that the killer was motivated by a hatred of Islam.
I saw also that it has been too long since Egyptian bloggers came together under the same banner, but that crime was a good reason for them to unite again, condemning international media for ignoring such incidents against Muslims in the West
People also used Twitter, the blogs, Facebook and Youtube to spread this news and expressed their thoughts about what happened.
So we saw a Facebook group called "Marwa Al-Sherbini, we will always remember you", which drew an astonishing 1,403 members within hours.
The majority of comments stated that Marwa el-Sherbini was the latest victim of fanaticism, hatred and Islamophobia in Europe.
It is very easy to understand the anger that the murder of Marwa el-Sherbini in Germany has provoked in Egypt, but there were some questions in my mind, which I didn't have an answer too:
Is Islamophobia in Europe leading to another holocaust?
Can "the clash of civilizations" be avoided if we realize that intercultural dialogue and mutual respect is the only way forward?
Is there any inherent tension between the secular-liberal order of "modern" Europe and the more "traditional" model of society associated with (Muslim) migrants?
The enlargement of the European Union has brought new opportunities for many, but it also creates new divisions and inequalities. The borders of Fortress Europe have moved but the inhumane migration and asylum policies are still tightening up. In the difficult international climate stereotypes are reinforced and the fear of the "other" is a serious problem in Europe today.
I posed these questions to some experts to know the answers, and I was lucky to interview Riem Spielhaus (a German researcher in the field of Islamic studies, and teaches at the South Asian department of the Institute for Asian and African studies at Humboldt-Universitaet zu Berlin) who replied: "I do not use the term Islamophobia for many reasons. To me it seems to be brought to actually be a good descriptive term. That means it starts from people being afraid from Islam, which after terrorist acts being conducted in the name of this religion is an understandable reaction and even many Muslims feel insecure in this context though they know it is not the heart of the religion that creates violent acts of hatred.
However being afraid (phobic) needs to be separated in description and analysis from the much more grave feature of performing acts of violence and insinuating hatred by different means. Another aspect we need to discuss in Europe is that Muslims feel excluded from parts of societies be it because of their religion or because of lack of education or economic power. This all leads to the conclusion that reality needs a more complex approach with which the term Islamophobia does not cover.
So, I rather speak of people who feel unease when confronted with Muslims or Islam, of exclusion of Islamic communities and Muslims in society in diverse ways and of anti- Muslim or anti-Islamic discourse. Finally and this seems to be the case in the shocking events in Dresden last week, there have been several acts of violence conducted against Muslims and Islamic places like mosques, and for the first time a family has been robbed of its mother, wife and daughter and even of the life of an unborn child just because she was Muslim.
- Is Islamophobia in Europe leading to another holocaust?
I have been thinking a lot about this question and I am shocked by the question itself - to be honest. NO! I do not think so.
Spielhaus doesn't believe and doesn't hope that the current situation in Europe could lead to another holocaust.
"To ask this question to a Muslim living in Germany to me seems to be rather cruel or is showing that the one asking doesn't know much about the holocaust. We can at no place in Europe today see something even by far similar to the machinery connected to the extinction of Jewish life in Europe during the Second World War.
However, the unimaginable brutality of the third Reich in Germany and the exclusion of Jewish Germans in European history before that should be a strong reminder that any exclusion of people because of ethnicity, background, color of skin or religion should not be tolerated or ignored but needs to be countered by a strong statement of the civil society." Continued Spielhaus.
"Even though many Muslims in this country and in Egypt might be worried about the reluctance of officials to comment on the recent events, Germany is characterized more by what its engaged citizens are saying and therefore the communal statement of Jewish and Muslim leaders together against any hostility against Islam and Muslims has an important relevance that cannot be underestimated." She said.
During the last days members of nearly all German parties made strong statements against hatred of Islam and urged the German government to take action against anti-Muslim sentiments and acts like the one that happened in Dresden.
Many may believe in intercultural dialogue as a promised way to dispel the myth of the "Clash of Civilizations," but such a dialogue should go through different challenges and examinations to prove it so.
So can "the clash of civilizations" be avoided if we realize that intercultural dialogue and mutual respect is the only way forward?
Riem Spielhaus: The 'dialogue of civilizations' is reflecting and perpetuating the same dichotomy that Samuel Huntington has introduced into global policy with his influential thesis. Clashes and conflicts are as I believe only to be overcome, if people accept each other as equals in their citizenship and their engagement for mutual understanding and the enhancement of societies, neighborhoods, the environment and the human kind. Some people draw the strength for their engagement from religion, others find other sources that drive them but this is a difference that needs to be respected if the aim is the same.
But is there any inherent tension between the secular-liberal order of "modern" Europe and the more "traditional" model of society associated with (Muslim) migrants?
No! Question rejected! These simplistic ideas of Muslims and immigrants being something strange or/and other to Europe are leading to exclusion and alienation. Many Muslims in Europe are first of all Europeans, European by birth, conviction and citizenship AND Muslim by faith. Many problems that we are facing today are resulting from some European societies and countries of origin identifying Muslims with immigrants and thereby not as parts of the societies they live in though many especially young Muslims are longing to be accepted as Germans, French or British. Media coverage, political debates and academic writing that perpetuates the exclusion of Muslims in narratives, which situate them outside European for instance by stigmatizing them as immigrants societies are contributing to a discourse of exclusion. We all need to ask ourselves the question: When does immigration stop? In which generation? Isn't the fourth enough?
Then she continued: "I can not answer the question what 'Islam' in Europe is - the statement is to broad to carry any meaning. Either Islam is a revelation - than it is the same everywhere but people are shaping its practice and understanding. Or you understand Islam as the way Muslims live their religion - an understanding that I do not share - but find rather confusing. But in this case replacing 'Islam' by 'Muslims' or 'Muslim life' seems to make sense.
So Muslims in Europe seem to be in their majority moderate. Not all Muslims seem to be religious though - please have a look at the Religion Monitor for answers to the question. It carries a lot of interesting information and it is just too late to rewrite them. You might find a good approach to grasp the term 'religious' because it is actually hard to describe what it means. And this survey gives a good interpretation of the term and it covered the answers of 3000 Muslims in Germany..."
On the other hand Dr.Abdeslam Maghraoui the Associate Professor of the Practice of Political Science and Core Faculty in the Duke Islamic Studies Center defined Islamophobia as the fear, hatred, resentment towards Islam, Islamic cultures, and peoples. It is often irrational but reasonable individuals may also exhibit symptoms. Islamophobia is based on the belief that Islam and Muslims are violent, uniform, backward, and resist modernity.
Then he added that Islamophobia has been gaining a lot of influence and it is much more widespread than we think. The recent elections to the European Parliament show that right wing extremist parties in many countries in Europe (Spain, England, Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Germany...) have a strong popular base. These parties are anti-immigrant, anti-Arab, and definitely anti-Muslim. Still, I don't think that another Holocaust in Europe is likely.
He also pointed out that Intercultural dialogue is important but often not enough. I attended many intercultural dialogues and interfaith discussions that are frank and polite. But once you leave the conference or the meetings another reality hits you. With dialogues, there is a need to emphasize civic rights and duties, the relationship between citizenship and culture/religion, the limits and possibilities of multiculturalism. These are extremely important issues, especially for Muslims leaving in the West.
"In principle, there should be no contradictions. Liberal democracy claims to be culturally neutral among different cultures, religions, and races. The United States is the most advanced in this regard. Europe is far behind as citizenship is still (informally) includes cultural components. A Muslim born in Europe is less likely to feel part of Europe if he/she lives according to Islamic principles. The problem is that Muslims express or live their spiritual lives differently. Some are moderate; others are conservative; yet others may embrace extreme versions or interpretations of Islam. The problem is that outsiders (or non-Muslims) are not always capable of distinguishing different forms of Islam. So they are really confused. "Maghraoui said.
And he agreed that the overwhelming majority of Muslims living in Europe are moderate Muslims. For decades, millions of Muslims in France, Spain, Holland, Italy, the UK, and Belgium have been living peacefully. But racism has been a problem in many countries (France, Germany in particular).
And by asking him about the media role in promoting diversity and religious tolerance in Europe he replied: "The role of the media is to expose instances of racism, hatred, and Islamophobia. AND it is incumbent on the media to address the social problems within Muslim communities (women's rights, acceptance of religious difference, respect of the lifestyles of Europeans, etc...). It is not helpful to simply blame the Europeans or Muslim communities." He commented.