Let me break down this story to see if I have it right (if anything, for my own sanity).
A 31-year old, headscarf-wearing Egyptian Muslim woman, Marwa Al-Sherbini, who was about four months pregnant, takes her German neighbor to court for calling her a “terrorist”. Now, in the courtroom, the neighbor, Alex W., stabs her 18 times right in front of her 3-year old son.
Her husband, a research fellow, tries to come to her rescue and ends up not only getting stabbed as well by the attacker, but is actually mistaken for the attacker and shot by the security guard.
This case was so mind-baffling when I read it a few days ago and I still haven’t been able to wrap my mind around it. Many questions and thoughts have been floating around in my head, and I hate to admit it but the most pertinent one that rests right at the foreground of my brain is based on two words: 18 times.
I am not a forensic scientist but I’ve seen enough Hollywood movies to know that stabbing someone 18 times isn’t a task that you get done in 5 or 10 seconds unless you’re the cyborg or a robot sent from the future. 18 times.
How long did it take for people in the courtroom to realize this woman was being stabbed and that someone should do something about it?
Seriously, try stabbing the wind 18 times right now as quickly as possible.
See what I’m saying?
Oh, and add to that her husband getting stabbed three times by the same guy before the tragedy came to an end (with the husband being shot).
Now I know this is a question that might seem silly or even absurd in light of this event. I know a better debate is being framed elsewhere (thanks to Egyptian bloggers). I know that a great deal of the conversation that centers around this case has been with regards to the lack of western coverage (what did they expect?) and the outrage in Egypt (what did they expect?) and the outrage to come from the perhaps various parts of the Muslim world (what did they expect?) or the rising Islamophobia in the West (what did they expect?), but while all these conversations are valid and have their own time and context to consider, for some reason, I remain mesmerized by this number: 18.
Strictly on a human level, how long does it take for someone to react. To move. To say “stop”. To say “enough”. Strictly on a human level. No religion. No gender. Just a human being watching one human being slaughtered by another.
How long does it take?
How does that number reach 18?
See, this is what’s been getting to me lately. In my head, this number, 18, rings incredibly significant. I recognize that there’s evil in this world, and that there always will be. There are breaking limits in this world and I recognize that too. There are numbers that weigh heavy on the human soul, and every one has one. It’s unmistakable. It’s undeniable. Often times we have absolutely no control over them and we relieve ourselves of any responsibilities. Like Tolstoy would put it, we pretend to simply be kings who are slaves to the whims of history. But often times, we do.
Often times, and not all the time, but some of the time, we do.
Often times these things happen right in front of us.
On our watch.
On our watch, these numbers take shape.
For Marwa Al-Sherbini that magical number was eighteen.
But what’s the body count in Iraq today?
What about the West Bank or Gaza?
What about in Darfur?
What’s their magic number? What’s their breaking limit?
At what point do we say “enough”?
At what point will we mean it?