“I loved him…once the World Trade Center came down, I changed my mind”


This week two stories related to racist discrimination caught my eye. The first of these is from Dresden, not too far from a our beloved Leipzig, within a region that has been host to a spate of racist attacks.

It was while Marwa el-Sherbini was in the dock recalling how the accused had insulted her for wearing the hijab after she asked him to let her son sit on a swing last summer, that the very same man strode across the Dresden courtroom and plunged a knife into her 18 times.

Her three-year-old son Mustafa was forced to watch as his mother slumped to the courtroom floor.

Even her husband Elvi Ali Okaz could do nothing as the 28-year-old Russian stock controller who was being sued for insult and abuse took the life of his pregnant wife. As Okaz ran to save her, he too was brought down, shot by a police officer who mistook him for the attacker. He is now in intensive care in a Dresden hospital…

…Unemployed Alex W. from Perm in Russia was found guilty last November of insulting and abusing Sherbini, screaming “terrorist” and “Islamist whore” at her, during the Dresden park encounter. He was fined ¤780 but had appealed the verdict, which is why he and Sherbini appeared face to face in court again.


This story has led to widespread protests within immigrants in Germany, as well as in Egypt, the homeland of the deceased. What surprises me here is the fact that the assailant, with known anti-islamic sentiments, was able to bring a knife into the courtroom? Would it be the same if the case was against a Jewish person in Germany? And even more surprising is that the police mistook the husband for the assailant? Especially after the guy had stabbed her 18 times?


The other story was carried in the New York Times, which investigated the of Tanveer Ahmed, a 43 year old immigrant who died in detention, and whose death went unreported for 3 years. America’s immigrant detainee system is notorious and has been subject to much criticsim of late. News about detainees, their condition and whereabouts rarely reaches their relatives and friends, and many times they are shifted or deported without any notie to their lawyers or family. In this particular case, not only was Tanveers health ignored, but his death was not known of until 3 years later.

06detain2_600Photo: NYtimes

Even as the man’s death was retrieved from official oblivion, however, his life remained a mystery, The New York Times reported in an April article on the case that pointed up the secrecy and lack of accountability in the nation’s ballooning immigration detention system. Just who the man was and why he had been detained were unknown.

But the most heart-breaking part of the story was what one of Tanveers American wives had to say about their relationship:

As she tells it, theirs was an intimate relationship ruined by 9/11. With regret, she recalled her reaction: “I was just cursing him. I was like, ‘You people come here and kill us and mess up our city.’ He was trying to convince me and prove to me that he’s a good man, not those people.”

“I loved him,” she added. “It was just, once the World Trade Center came down, I changed my mind.”

His other wife also relates a tale of fear and discrimination:

Then came 9/11. “Friends and family, ringing my phone — ‘You better watch it, you maybe married a terrorist,’ ” Ms. Farrar recalled, evoking a period when hundreds of Muslim immigrants in New York were swept up on the strength of vague suspicions. “I would bring it to him. He was scared anybody was going to hurt him.”


Both these stories are completely different, but both tell us about the discrimination that immigrants face in their day-to-day life. The failure of the state to adequately guarantee the safety of individuals- by failing to provide adequate prtection in the first case, and by sheer neglect in the second-is apparent, and conditioned by a discriminatory attitude to immigrants. What is really sad is the affect that their immigrant status had on their personal lives. Tanveers case demonstrates the paranoia that affected the entire world in the wake of 9/11, and whos repurcussoions were felt by Ms. Sherbini seven years later.

What do you guys make of these cases? Especially with discussion regarding steretypes earlier in the blog? Are there any more stories of racism, or discrimination, out there?

3 thoughts on ““I loved him…once the World Trade Center came down, I changed my mind”

  1. Such a contrast to Lisa’s piece. In her case, stereotypes provided a basis for interaction – preconceived ideas about what a German or a Californian is like were used, and corrected, in building a bridge between two places. I think we’ve all experienced this to some extent while living abroad, and find it harmless, if a little frustrating.

    Stereotypes in these cases don’t involve that element of interaction, they are a means for justifying judgement, exclusion, and violence. When the actions of a state, even in negligence, support the idea that these kind of attitudes are acceptable, there is a serious problem. This should go without saying.

  2. European countries are on the way to learn how to live with different cultures and religions. For hundreds years, there were religion wars in spite of relative ethnic and cultural homogeneity in contrast to current ethnic and cultural composition. (Eighty years’ wars, thirty years’ wars etc.) Considering the contemporary ethnic and cultural pluralism, one can claim that this new predicament is a litmus test not just for the immigrants but also for the “natives” to live in a new and multicultural society.
    One detail about the assailant is worthy of mentioning; he is a “Russlanddeutschen”, in another words he has also an immigrant background yet he is ethnically German (if I am not wrong), that at the end makes him a German citizen unlike the “deceased.” Although it is loosened recently, the ethnic-genealogical citizenship tradition is still powerful in Germany.

    An important criticism from altmuslim reverses the “What if question” reminded above and asks “If a western or local woman were attacked or murdered in a Muslim country for not wearing the headscarf, would her case attract much attention in Egypt or other Muslim countries?” (http://www.altmuslim.com/a/a/a/3183/)
    This is a good question to think about…

    For the second case, I hope “Obama Effect” will show its impact soon on this case too… For Ramadan, the unfair regulations of the Bush government is already being challenged by a recent court ruling:

  3. @lash: what i find sad about these cases is that these stereotypes existed despite interaction, especially in the case of Tanveer whose wife left him because of his ethnicity despite knowing him intimately.

    @erol: thanks for the updates and the links. do appreciate it.

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