The most serious and crushing harm to those Muslims who respect their non-Muslim neighbors and detest the extremists is that many Western commentators appear utterly uninformed about the representatives of the moderate, non-extremist Muslims.
How long will it take before responsible Westerners perceive the struggle among Muslims between extremists and non-extremists, between the radicals and anti-radicals?
A Sunni Muslim funeral for the slain student Tuğçe Albayrak, a German-born 22-year old woman of Turkish descent, was attended on December 3 by 1,500 mourners in Wächtersbach, a town in the western German state of Hesse. Prayers for Albayrak began in the local mosque, which is controlled by the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs [DİTİB], an official arm of the Turkish government that administers Sunni religious affairs in Germany. She was then buried in her hometown, Bad Soden-Salmünster, not far away.
Tuğçe Albayrak was an aspiring high school teacher, hoping to complete university courses in German language and in ethics. She was knocked to the pavement of a parking lot on the night of November 15, at a McDonald’s restaurant in the city of Offenbach, also in Hesse. With a severe head injury and in a coma, she was kept alive for two weeks, but on November 28, her 23rd birthday, her parents asked that life-support technology for her be switched off, and she died.
Whether the death of Tuğçe Albayrak was caused by a blow to the head or by her impact on the pavement has yet to be made clear by investigators. But Tuğçe perished, according to witnesses, after trying to protect two German girls, 13 and 16, whom she allegedly heard complaining of harassment in the restaurant’s toilets. The girls did not come forward immediately; following German law, their identities and statements remain confidential.
Germans as a whole – non-Muslims no less than Muslims – have been moved by the case. Tuğçe Albayrak has been treated as a civic hero. Calls for stricter measures against juvenile crime are accompanying appeals for improved schooling and more programs to prevent violence.
What immediate measures can prevent such incidents in the future? Perhaps teachers should be more aware; perhaps parents can choose better educational alternatives. Young women could be educated to defend themselves better physically. Training might be offered within the sports curriculum. Another possibility is to teach boys exercise self-control and avoid violence.
A Serbian immigrant, Sanel M., aged 18 and a resident of Offenbach, has been arrested in the case. Under German judiciary rules, his last name has not been released. He was born in Sjenica, a small town in the Sandžak region of southwest Serbia. Sjenica has a Muslim majority, and it is possible that the accused perpetrator is Muslim by origin.
According to the German daily Die Welt, Sanel M. holds a Yugoslav passport and has a lengthy criminal record in Germany. But as described separately in the same newspaper, his previous violations of law – although they included burglary and assaults, with time served as a juvenile convict – did not qualify him as a “multiple or serious offender,” according to Hesse state law.
Sanel M. is now jailed in solitary confinement out of concern for his security, judicial authorities said. The crime is being handled as a physical injury resulting in death. Whether he will be tried as an adult or a juvenile is unclear, as are the results of a test to see if he was drunk. But security-camera video of the incident, posted by the German newspaper Bild and reposted by media around the world, was interpreted by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation as showing one man, presumably Sanel M., striking Tuğçe Albayrak with “some kind of club, or stick, or rock.”
Who represents Islam in Germany? An integrated German-Turkish woman who defends other women, or the small group of supporters of the “Islamic State?” This question is a microcosm of the internal contradictions in Islam. Tuğçe Albayrak was not a Muslim fundamentalist. In countless images of her taken from social media and reproduced by German journalists, she does not wear a headscarf, a garment that fully covers her, or other signs of Islamist affiliation. She had principles and bravery in shielding two young girls she seems not to have known, and Germany praises her for her courage. Such valiant choices are not explained easily; they can be spurred by conscience in an instant and heard about only when they end tragically.