CAIR and U.S. Muslim leaders to ask Iranian President for release of hikers

Representatives of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), along with other national Muslim leaders, will meet Thursday with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to seek the release of three American hikers who were detained after apparently straying across Iran’s border.

Shane Bauer, Joshua Fattal and Sarah Shourd were detained in July while hiking in northern Iraq’s Kurdistan region.

The case has added to tensions between Iran and the United States.

The Marwa Al-Sherbini Case: Investigators Believe Killer ‘Hated Non-Europeans’ and Muslims

Two months after the brutal murder of an Egyptian woman in a courtroom in Dresden, investigators believe the German-Russian immigrant who killed Marwa al-Sharbini was motivated by xenophobia. The case, which has not yet gone to trial, continues to be the focus of intense pressure from abroad. The tragic events were set in motion at a swing set in a plain wooden sandbox in Dresden, a major city in eastern Germany. A huge ash-leaf maple tree casts its shadow. East German-era prefab tower blocks are located next door, and tenants hang their laundry out to dry next to the small playground in the city’s Johannstadt district. Everything is regulated here — even playtime, which is permitted from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the summer months. It was on this playground that Alexander W.* and Marwa al-Sherbini met for the first time on August 21, 2008. He was a 27-year-old Russian-German from Perm; she a 30-year-old Egyptian from Alexandria. Both had been stranded in eastern Germany by chance. They hadn’t encountered each other before — and there was no reason to think they ever would again. But an ominous confrontation ensued following a dispute over a swing, culminating 10 months later with a crime that rattled the Islamic world, battered Germany’s reputation and gave Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad another excuse to hurl invectives. Steffen Winter reports.

In Dresden, High Culture and Ugly Reality Clash

In early July thousands of mourners took to the streets in Egypt, chanting “Down with Germany.” Thousands more Arabs and Muslims joined them in protests in Berlin. In Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad added to the outcry by denouncing German “brutality.” The provocation was the murder on July 1 of Marwa al-Sherbini, a pregnant Egyptian pharmacist here. She was stabbed 18 times in a Dresden courtroom, in front of her 3-year-old son, judges and other witnesses, reportedly by the man appealing a fine for having insulted Ms. Sherbini in a park. Identified by German authorities only as a 28-year-old Russian-born German named Alex W., he had called Ms. Sherbini an Islamist, a terrorist and a slut when she asked him to make room for her son on the playground swings. Ms. Sherbini wore a head scarf. The killer also stabbed Elwi Okaz, Ms. Sherbini’s husband and a genetic research scientist, who was critically wounded as he tried to defend her. The police, arriving late on the scene, mistook him for the attacker and shot him in the leg. More than a week passed before the German government, responding to rising anger across the Arab world, expressed words of sorrow while stressing that the attack did occur during the prosecution of a racist and that the accused man was originally from Russia. Dresden is one of the great cultural capitals of Europe. It is also the capital of Saxony, a former part of East Germany that, along with having a reputation as Silicon Saxony, has made more than a few headlines in recent years for incidents of xenophobia and right-wing extremism. One wonders how to reconcile the heights of the city’s culture with the gutter of these events. MICHAEL KIMMELMAN reports.

CAIR prepares delegation to Iran seeking journalist’s release

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is preparing to send a delegation to Iran to seek the release of American journalist Roxana Saberi, who was recently sentenced by an Iranian court to eight years in prison.

In an April 17 letter to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, CAIR Board Chairman State Senator Larry Shaw (NC) and CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad requested that the Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization “be allowed to travel to Iran to discuss with you and other officials the case of Roxana Saberi and how it may be resolved in a way that helps improve relations and benefits the cause of international peace and stability.”

Earlier this April, CAIR called on Iran to release Saberi as a “gesture of reconciliation” to help improve relations between Iran and America.

The Culture War Descends on Columbia

In the past few years, the students and faculty of Columbia University have found themselves in the midst of a culture war. They’ve seen their Middle East Studies department targeted as “anti-Israel” by one right-wing organization, the David Project. Two assistant professors, Joseph Massad and Nadia Abu El-Haj, were publicly smeared by another right-wing outfit, Campus Watch, as they underwent tenure review (see “The New McCarthyism” by Larry Cohler-Esses). And at the start of this school year their own president, Lee Bollinger, seemed to pander to this right-wing pressure by slamming Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the name of “the modern civilized world.”…