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Sunday, March 25, 2007
German Judge Cites Koran, Stirring Up Cultural Storm
Judge holds Koran above German law in case of domestic abuseThis is like that...Joel 2:3
A fire consumes before them and behind them a flame burns. The land is like the garden of Eden before them but a desolate wilderness behind them, and nothing at all escapes them.
How long, O LORD, will I call for help, and You will not hear? I cry out to You, "violence! "Yet You do not save. Why do You make me see iniquity, and cause me to look on wickedness? Yes, destruction and violence are before me; strife exists and contention arises.
NEW YORK TIMES - By Mark Landler - March 23, 2007
FRANKFURT, March 22 — A German judge has stirred a storm of protest by citing the Koran in turning down a German Muslim woman’s request for a speedy divorce on the ground that her husband beat her.
In a ruling that underlines the tension between Muslim customs and European laws, the judge, Christa Datz-Winter, noted that the couple came from a Moroccan cultural milieu, in which it is common for husbands to beat their wives. The Koran, she wrote in her decision, sanctions such physical abuse.
News of the ruling brought swift and sharp condemnation from politicians, legal experts and Muslim leaders in Germany, many of whom said they were confounded that a German judge would put seventh-century Islamic religious teaching ahead of German law in deciding a case of domestic violence.
The court in Frankfurt abruptly removed Judge Datz-Winter from the case on Wednesday, saying it could not justify her reasoning. The woman’s lawyer, Barbara Becker-Rojczyk, said she decided to publicize the ruling, which was issued in January, after the court refused her request for a new judge.
“It was terrible for my client,” Ms. Becker-Rojczyk said. “This man beat her seriously from the beginning of their marriage. After they separated, he called her and threatened to kill her.”
Muslim leaders agreed that Muslims living here must be judged by the German legal code. But they were just as offended by what they characterized as the judge’s misinterpretation of a much-debated passage in the Koran.
While the verse cited by Judge Datz-Winter does say husbands may beat their wives for being disobedient — an interpretation embraced by fundamentalists— mainstream Muslims have long rejected wife-beating as a medieval relic.
“Our prophet never struck a woman, and he is our example,” Ayyub Axel Köhler, the head of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, said in an interview.
While legal experts said the ruling was a judicial misstep rather than evidence of a broader trend, it comes at a time of rising tension in Europe as authorities in many fields struggle to reconcile Western values with growing Muslim minorities.
Last fall, for example, a Berlin opera house canceled performances of a Mozart opera because of security fears stirred by a scene that depicts the severed head of the Prophet Muhammad. Stung by charges that it had surrendered its artistic freedom, the house staged the opera three months later without incident.
To some here, the judge’s ruling reflected a similar compromising of basic values.
“A judge in Germany has to refer to the constitutional law, which says that human rights are not to be violated,” said Günter Meyer, director of the Center for Research on the Arab World at the University of Mainz. “It’s not her task to interpret the Koran. It was an attempt at multicultural understanding, but in completely the wrong context.”
Reaction to the judge’s decision has been almost as sulfurous as it was to the cancellation of the opera.
“When the Koran is put above the German Constitution, I can only say, ‘Good night, Germany,’ ” Ronald Pofalla, general secretary of the Christian Democratic Union, said in the mass-market newspaper Bild.
The 26-year-old woman in this case was born in Germany to a Moroccan family and married in Morocco in 2001, according to her lawyer, Ms. Becker-Rojczyk. The couple settled in the Frankfurt area and had two children.
In May 2006, the police were summoned after a particularly violent incident. At that time, Judge Datz-Winter ordered the husband to move out and stay at least 55 yards away from the couple’s home. In the months that followed, her lawyer said, the man threatened to kill his wife.
Terrified, the woman filed for divorce in October and requested that it be granted without the usual year of separation because her husband’s threats and beatings constituted an “unreasonable hardship.”
“We worried that he might think he had the right to kill her because she is still his wife,” Ms. Becker-Rojczyk said.
A lawyer for the husband, Gisela Hammes, did not reply to an e-mail message and a telephone message left at her office in Mainz.
In January, the judge turned down the wife’s request for a speedy divorce, saying her husband’s behavior did not constitute unreasonable hardship because they are both Moroccan. “In this cultural background,” she wrote, “it is not unusual that the husband uses physical punishment against the wife.”
Ms. Becker-Rojczyk filed a request to remove the judge from the case, contending that she had not been neutral.
In a statement defending her ruling, Judge Datz-Winter noted that she had ordered the man to move out and put a restraining order on him. But she also cited the verse in the Koran that speaks of a husband’s prerogatives in disciplining his wife. And she suggested that the wife’s Western lifestyle would give her husband grounds to claim his honor had been compromised.
The woman, her lawyer said, does not wear a headscarf. She has been a German citizen for eight years.
Judge Datz-Winter declined to comment. But a spokesman for the court, Bernhard Olp, said she did not intend to suggest that violence in a marriage is acceptable or that the Koran supersedes German law. “The ruling is not justifiable, but the judge herself cannot explain it at this moment,” he said.
Judge Datz-Winter herself narrowly avoided injury 10 years ago in a case involving a man and woman whose relationship had come apart. When the man shot up her courtroom, the judge escaped by diving under her desk.
German papers have suggested that that ordeal may have affected her judgment in this case, which the spokesman denied.
A new judge will be assigned, but Ms. Becker-Rojczyk said her client would probably wait until May for her divorce because the paperwork would take until then anyway.
For some, the greatest damage done by this episode is to other Muslim women suffering from domestic abuse. Many are already afraid of going to court against their spouses. There have been a string of so-called honor killings here, in which Turkish Muslim men have murdered women.
“For Muslim men, this is like putting oil on a fire, that a German judge thinks it is O.K. for them to hit their wives,” said Michaela Sulaika Kaiser, the head of a group that counsels Muslim women.
Sarah Plass contributed reporting.
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