When I read the news that Marwa el-Sherbini had been murdered, I couldn’t help feeling a sense of déjà vu. Here was yet another tragic case of someone murdered ostensiblybecause of the group to which they belonged. So, why the sense of déjà vu? Because, having witnessed the exploitation of Eltham teenager Stephen Lawrence’s murder and the subsequent misuse of his memory for partisan political and cultural ends, I was prepared for the lengths some organisations and individuals would go to in order to attain their objectives.
And so it was in the wake of Marwa’s death: within a week of her murder in the Dresden court room in which her assailant was appealing a fine for slander against her, Islamic media such as Islam Online were beginning to fan the flames of conspiracy and ‘Islamophobia’ to justify her status as a ‘hijab martyr’. Despite their being no connection between the initial offence of slander, her eventual murder at the hands of one Axel W. and her wearing the hijab, the causation for her death quickly became religious discrimination: she was killed because she wore the hijab, according to the prevailing narrative.
I was so sure that Marwa’s death would be exploited by the Islamists that I predicted her demise would become the locus of a relentless campaign against supposed negative attitudes towards Islam in Europe and the wider liberal democratic and secular West. So far, my prediction has been proved correct.
Initially, Islam Online reported that the organisations affiliated to the Global Muslim Brotherhood supported a proposal to create a ‘World Hijab Day’:
A proposal put forward by one of IslamOnline.net’s readers for a World Hijab Day to mark the death of Marwa Al-Sherbini drew immediate support from around the world. “We are throwing our weight behind this proposal,” says Abeer Pharaon, the chair of the Assembly for the Protection of Hijab. “Sherbini is not only a hijab martyr but also a victim of Islamophobia, from which European Muslims are suffering,” she stressed. “Her death deserves to be commemorated and marked as a World Hijab Day.”… The despicable crime sparked calls by IOL readers for action in defense of Hijab, an obligatory code of dress that every Muslim woman must wear. One reader suggested marking the tragic death of the young woman with a special day on which Muslim women across the world would take to the streets to defend their dress code. “We are supporting the proposal,” Rawa Al-Abed, an official in the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe, told IOL. “We are also calling for organizing more events to raise awareness about the rights of Muslim women in Europe, including wearing hijab.” Many Muslims mark the International Hijab Solidarity Day in the first week of September. The day was launched by the London-based Assembly for the Protection of Hijab (Protect Hijab) in 2004 to protest a French law banning hijab in state schools.
Rawa Al-Abed is known to be a leader in the “Women’s Action” section of the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe (FIOE), an umbrella organisation comprised of Muslim Brotherhood affiliated groups in Europe.
A NEFA Foundation report documents the ties between FIOE and the Assembly for the Protection of Hijab:
FIOE is currently listed as a supporter on the website of an organization known as the Assembly for the Protection of Hijab, also known as Pro-Hijab, …Pro-Hijab was launched in in June 2004 at a press conference held at the House of Commons and attended by FIOE president Ahmed Al-Rawi. A press release announcing a second Pro-Hijab conference indicated that it was to include Youssef Qaradawi as a guest of honor and that Tariq Ramadan was scheduled as a featured speaker. At that time, the organization indicated that the Muslim Association of Britain, the UK FIOE member, played a “pivotal role in the formation of Pro-Hijab.In 2005, the group planned a lobbying campaign at the European parliament in Strasbourg…
The issue of the hijab has consistently been at the forefront of the European Muslim Brotherhood’s ‘reform’ agenda. As a pragmatic organisation, rather than seeking to achieve the impossible task of implementing Islam by force, they have followed a policy of strategic gradualism, of which the initial stage consists of ‘reforming’ Muslims and generating a movement that advocates a return to an Islamic lifestyle; for both individuals and society in general. One of these key reforms is the normalising of the status of the hijab and promoting it as compulsory for all Muslim women.
Islamist movements such as the Brotherhood have also adopted the language of human rights to manipulate the debate over certain tenets of Islam that are seen as antithetical to or incompatible with Western notions of freedom.
One of the principal tools of Islamist soft power is the evocation of Islamophobia* at every opportunity. Islamists are aware of the process by which an accusation of racism, homophobia or anti-Semitism can damage the reputation of a naïf or be used as a substitute for any semblance of a counter-argument to ‘win’ a debate.
U.K. far-left media have recently reported the launch of a new campaign against ‘Islamophobia’ called Kafa (Arabic for “enough”). According to one report, the campaign was launched by the U.K. Muslim Brotherhood and the far-left Stop the War Coalition (SWC):
Around 200 people attended the launch of Kafa (Arabic for “enough”) in east London on Friday of last week. This timely campaign against Islamophobia was called by the Stop the War Coalition, British Muslim Initiative, Muslim Council of Britain and others. The meeting featured speakers including George Galloway, Guardian journalist Seamus Milne , Lindsey German from Stop the War and others . The campaign was called by Stop the War, British Muslim Initiative, Muslim Council of Britain and others has brought together Muslims and non-Muslims. Kafa intends to continue by holding events and activities up and down the country.
The British Muslim Initiative is a U.K Islamist group led by long-time U.K Brotherhood leaders Anas al-Tikriti and Azzam Tamimi, formerly leaders of the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), yet another Brotherhood group.
The Kafa founding statement was signed by other individuals and organizations tied to the U.K Brotherhood including Mohammed Sawalha, a one-time UK spokesman for the Brotherhood and a ‘fugitive Hamas commander’.
The Federation of Islamic Organizations (FIOE), one of the MB-affiliated groups that have been extremely vocal in their criticism of European society in the wake of Marwa’s death and a key supporter of the World Hijab Day initiative, issued a statement at its Fourth General Assembly held in Turkey from June 4th to June 7th. According to the statement:
In light of the rising wave of Islamophobia, the Assembly discussed the previously proposed decision of establishing an entity to protect and defend the rights of Muslims. It viewed the accomplishments of the committee designated to this task and expressed its approval of the outcome and efforts, and encouraged moving forward on this front.
According to their report on the FIOE, the NEFA Foundation describes the organisation as follows:
The Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe (FIOE) claims to be an independent organization representing the interests of Muslims in Europe. In reality, the FIOE is an umbrella group that comprises the global Muslim Brotherhood in Europe. Strong links connect FIOE’s leadership central institutions and member organizations to the Brotherhood, as well as to Saudi Arabia. Funding for the FIOE is derived largely from Gulf sources, including some of the ruling families of the United Arab Emirates. The FIOE has strong ties to Hamas and Hamas fund-raising organizations, and some FIOE member organizations show evidence of links with Al-Qaida. The FIOE recently opened a headquarters office in Brussels and has had some success in positioning itself as a “dialog partner” for the EU and other important institutions.
The president of one of the FIOE’s key member organisations, the Union des Organizations Islamiques de France (UOIF), Lhaj Thami Breze, has insisted that the French government enact a law against ‘Islamophobia’. According to one article:
The French government must submit a draft law against Islamophobia, like the laws against anti-Semitism. The appeal was launched by Lhaj Thami Breze, president of the Union des Organizations Islamiques de France (UOIF). In an interview with AKI-ADNKRONOS INTERNATIONAL after a fire near a mosque in Lyon last Saturday, Breze says that, “in the face of continuing attacks against Muslims, it is necessary that the state is not limited to condemning these acts, but proposes a law that punishes Islamophobia”. According to the advocate for the French Muslim community, these incidents reflect “the bitterness of those who oppose seeing Islam find its place in France and its official and popular acceptance”. Breze points out that “not a day goes by without the the opening of a mosque or a prayer hall in several French cities.”
The Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), yet another umbrella body consisting of Muslim-majority nations and Islamic states, has been instrumental in calling for the criminalisation of religious criticism and, more specifically, the outlawing of Islamophobia.
A conference entitled ‘the International Conference on Islamophobia’ was held from 8-9th December 2007 at the Grand Cevahir Hotel in Istanbul. The conference, organised by a Turkish organization known as ‘the Union of NGOs of the Islamic World‘ and affiliated to the OIC, featured a large number of prominent speakers with ties to the global Muslim Brotherhood including:
Ahmed Von Denffer (Germany)
Anwar Ibrahim (Malaysia)
Iqbal Sacranie (U.K)
John Esposito (U.S)
Karen Armsttrong U.S
Lord Nazim Ahmed (U.K.)
Louay Safi (U.S.)
Merve Safa KavakÃ§i (U.S.)
Tariq Ramadan (Switzerland)
Sulayman Nyang (U.S.)
The OIC itself has not been slow to capitalise on Marwa’s murder. In a statement on their website following the incident’s widespread coverage in the press:
The OIC Islamophobia Observatory has been following the event and its aftermath with concern. “It only underscores the importance of addressing the threat posed by the worrying trend of Islamophobia, as a contemporary form of racism, through sustained and constructive engagement based on the vision of an ‘historical reconciliation’ advocated by the OIC Secretary General”, said the spokesman. He added that it would be particularly important in this endeavor for the political leadership in the West to pave the way by making positive statements and contributions.
The OIC’s Islamophobia Observatory, which has now produced two comprehensive reports into trends and incidences of so-called Islamophobia (see here and here), was originally set up in response to the publication of the Muhammad caricatures in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten and subsequent controversy surrounding them, in September 2005. However, the Observatory, as initially conceived, has a wider remit as part of a ten-year plan to:
[…] counter Islamophobia and bring the issue to the forefront of the agenda of the international community, to create awareness of its dangerous implications on global peace and security and to stress on the urgent need to develop a collective political will to combat it.
“This office will provide the West and Islam the opportunity to work coherently,” said Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, the Turkish secretary-general of the organization, to Today’s Zaman. The office will cooperate with the European Parliament and the European Council to develop the initiatives for interfaith and intercultural dialogue and institute contacts with nongovernmental organizations. The office will also be effective in efforts aimed at preventing discrimination against Muslims and fighting anti-Islam propaganda. “Of course fighting anti-Islam propaganda is one of the main aims of the office. Intercultural and interfaith dialogue constitute the priorities of the office in Brussels,” İhsanoğlu said.
This new institution will enable the OIC to lobby directly at the heart of EU decision-making and further entrench the organisation as the representatives of a fictitious and misleading entity known as the Muslim world:
OIC officials are concerned that most of the actions considered by the public as Islamophobic took place in European countries; thus, the OIC believes better contact with official European institutions and the public is vital.
The OIC already has offices in New York and Geneva. The new office in Brussels will advance relations between Europe and the Muslim world. “With this office, we can create close institutional cooperation with the member countries of the European Union,” İhsanoğlu said.
The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups have also been keen to make parallels between Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.
Efraim Karsh and Rory Miller, writing in Commentary Magazine, examine the claim by many Muslim Brotherhood groups that Muslims in Europe have become the “New Jews”, subject to massive discrimination and in danger of genocide. While perhaps a little sanguine about anti-Islamic actions such as arson directed against European mosques, the authors correctly note how Muslim Brotherhood groups have used the concept of Islamophobia for political gain:
For their part, Muslim groups have worked assiduously to manipulate European feelings of guilt over the Nazi past. Radical organizations like the French Union d’Organizations Islamiques (UOIF), the MuslimBrothers in Germany and the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC) in the UK have been increasingly able to use the Trojan horse of “Islamophobia” to establish themselves as the dominant voice of the Muslim communities in their countries. MPAC, for example, emerged as a serious player in British politics by launching a campaign targeting “anti-Muslim MP’s” in the May 2005 parliamentary elections. The rising influence of such groups should be as great a cause forconcern as the wave of anti-Semitic violence that has emerged in Europe in recent years.
Karsh and Miller observe the readiness of Islamists to manipulate crime statistics in order to assert that Muslims in the Europe are subject to a rising wave of ‘hate crimes’:
[…] the majority of anti-Semitic attacks in Europe since 9/11 have been perpetrated by members of the very same Muslim communities now claiming to be Europe’s “new” Jews. In almost every case of harassment and violence documented by CIDI in Amsterdam, the victims reported that their persecutors were of North African Muslim origin. Muslim gangs have been responsible for many of the anti-Jewish hate crimes across the rest of the continent as well.
Anas al-Tikriti, in his latest column for Islam Online, whilst mirroring some of the false claims of media indifference to Marwa’s murder voiced by other Islamists, claims:
The manner as well as the circumstances surrounding this tragic incident, including her husband getting shot by a court security guard as he tried to shield her frenzied murderer, give rise to more questions than answers. The most pressing of which is probably why the European media, which is so vocal and enthusiastic whenever a “bad story” involving a Muslim emerges, was so quiet and muted when the Muslim happened to be the slain victim.
He also cites French President Sarkozy’s recent statement on the burqa as having laid the groundwork for Marwa’s murder, despite the fact that Marwa did not wear either a burqa or a niqab:
Also, with no more than two weeks passing since the French President attacked the burqa, one cannot help but query the extent of the influence of Sarkozy’s statements and widespread media support for his move, in creating the conditions which allowed “Alex” to carry out the murder.
And, like other Islamists, al-Tikriti is never one to miss an opportunity to seek a more prestigious role for Muslim organisations who supposedly represent the whole of the mythically homogeneous Muslim community:
The complex and sophisticated structure of mainstream Muslim federations, organizations and associations cannot afford to watch passively as political circles and media establishments continue to descend into the laps of the far-right and their racist, supremacist and repugnant rhetoric.
The role of these bodies has long moved from the basic remit to provide places of worship, venues for Islamic education and outlets for halal meat, and must now assume their full political, social, economic, cultural and ideological roles in addressing the pressing challenges of how to become a perfect European citizen without having to compromise on one’s Muslim faith, identity and practice. It’s also vital that these organizations see their role within the wider European contexts, as one that works towards the betterment and progress of Europe and all her nations.
All in all, it would be refreshing for once, if Muslim commentators, instead of seeking to exploit tragic isolated incidents as part of their despicable identity politics agenda, chose to honour the memory of the dead and sought to create a better world for all, free from essentialist notions of religious affiliation and cultural distinctiveness.
*The term Islamophobia was first coined in a report commissioned by the British government entitled Islamophobia: a Challenge for Us All compiled by the Runnymede Trust in 1997.