In Solidarity with All Muslims
On Monday 6 July, along with Aiman Mazyek, General Secretary of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, the Egyptian ambassador Ramzi Ezzeldin Ramzi, Chief Constable Bernd Merbitz and the Justice Minister for Saxony, Geert Mackenroth, I visited Elwi Ali Okaz in hospital in Dresden.
His wife, Marwa al-Sherbini, was stabbed to death by a fanatical Muslim-hater, and this in a German court of law. Her unborn child died at the same time. Her three-year-old son was forced to watch the murder in the courtroom. Her husband, who attempted to protect her, was also critically injured.
In making this hospital visit we wanted to offer moral support to Elwi Ali Okaz – who, in a ghastly misunderstanding, was also shot at by a policeman believing him to be the attacker – and to make public our solidarity, not only with the victims of this attack, but with all Muslims in Germany.
Smug, patronising satisfaction
Our visit received unexpectedly broad media coverage. The annoying thing about this was that some editors seemed to find the visit to Dresden by representatives of two different religions more significant than the racist murder itself. Apparently some editors found the murder of a Muslim woman much less notable than the joint appearance of two general secretaries, one Muslim the other Jewish.
In some editorials an almost smug, patronising satisfaction could be detected, as they described an "alliance of minorities" who had finally shown themselves capable of learning and discovered how to work together.
Attack on the democratic society as a whole
This situation calls for a few words of clarification. I did not travel to Dresden because as a Jew I belong to a minority. I made the journey because as a Jew I know that anyone who attacks a person because of their race, nationality or religion is not only attacking the minority, they are attacking democratic society as a whole.
The relevant question is therefore not why a representative of the Jewish community paid his condolences and showed solidarity with Elwi Ali Okaz, but why there was not a steady stream of visitors or statements of solidarity from representatives of the social majority in Germany.
Why did reactions to the murder from the media and politicians come so late? This is being remedied, not least due to international public pressure. Concern is not convincing, however, if you have been forced to show it.
The wider significance of the Dresden attack
It appears that German society has not recognised the wider significance of the Dresden attack. It has failed to see that the murder of Marwa al-Sherbini is clearly the consequence of largely unchecked hate propaganda against Muslims spread by everyone from marginal extremists right through to people at the centre of society.
The far-right scene above all has ensured a climate of discrimination, demonization and fear of people with other beliefs, of foreigners and members of minorities.
There is also a lack of awareness however, that society’s inadequate resistance to racism threatens to encourage further acts of terrorism – the word is wholly appropriate – such as this cowardly murder in Dresden.
No alternative to extensive dialogue
For this reason Germany needs to be tough with itself. It is not only important to isolate the agitators and punish them, but also to raise awareness long-term and disseminate knowledge about the Muslim population, its culture, religion and customs.
Our aim has to be not just tolerance, but respect in our dealings with each other. Nothing can replace extensive dialogue – not only between theologians and officials, but involving as many citizens as possible: groundwork in the best sense of the word.
I know that the shock and uncertainty amongst Muslims is particularly great at the moment. This is understandable.
Despite this they should not abandon their efforts to take their rightful place in German society. For some – and the experience of other minorities including Jews shows this – this means a balancing act between maintaining one’s own identity and merging with the societal environment. In resolving this dilemma too, an open dialogue between the minority and the majority is also indispensible.
Integration does not mean assimilation. If there is mutual respect, being different is no barrier to living together.
Stephan J. Kramer
© Qantara.de 2009
Stephan J. Kramer is General Secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.