She didn't know it, nor did she even expect it. She had good intentions. Perhaps it was a mistake. In fact, it was most certainly a mistake. The best thing to do would be to wipe the slate clean.
Last week, in the middle of the storm, Christa Datz-Winter, a judge on Frankfurt's family court, was speechless. But Bernhard Olp, a spokesman for the city's municipal court, was quick to jump in. Olp reported that the judge had been under emotional stress stemming from a murder that had been committed in her office 10 years ago, and that she was now planning to take a break to recuperate. He also mentioned that she was "outraged" -- not about herself or her scandalous ruling, but over the reactions the case has triggered.
The reactions were so fierce that one could have been forgiven for mistakenly thinking that Germany's Muslims had won the headscarf dispute and the controversy over the Mohammed cartoons in a single day and, in one fell swoop, had taken a substantial bite out of the legal foundations of Western civilization.
The ensuing media furor came from both sides of the political spectrum. The left-leaning daily Die Tageszeitung ran a story on the case titled: "In the Name of the People: Beating Allowed," while the right-wing tabloid Bild called it "An Outrageous Case!" The same unanimity across party lines prevailed in the political realm. "Unbearable," was conservative Bavarian Interior Minister Günther Beckstein's ruling, while Lale Akgün, a member of parliament of Turkish origin and the Social Democratic Party's representative on Islamic issues, commented that the Frankfurt judge's ruling was "worse than some backyard decision by an Islamist imam." Even the deputy head of the Green Party's parliamentary group, Hans-Christian Ströbele, noted that a German judge is obligated to uphold German law.
The original purpose of the case was not to carry the clash of cultures into the courtroom. Instead, the case brought before Frankfurt's family court was that of a 26-year-old German woman of Moroccan origin who was terrified of her violent Moroccan husband, a man who had continued to threaten her despite having been ordered to stay away by the authorities. He had beaten his wife and he had allegedly threatened to kill her.
But German law requires a one-year separation before a divorce can be completed -- and exceptions for an expedited process are only granted in extreme situations. When the woman's attorney, Barbara Becker-Rojczyk, filed a petition for an expedited divorce, Judge Christa Datz-Winter suddenly became inflexible. According to the judge, there was no evidence of "an unreasonable hardship" that would make it necessary to dissolve the marriage immediately. Instead, the judge argued, the woman should have "expected" that her husband, who had grown up in a country influenced by Islamic tradition, would exercise the "right to use corporal punishment" his religion grants him.
The judge even went so far as to quote the Koran in the grounds for her decision. In Sura 4, verse 34, she wrote, the Koran contains "both the husband's right to use corporal punishment against a disobedient wife and the establishment of the husband's superiority over the wife."
A disturbing pattern of rulings
Put plainly, the judge argued that a woman who marries a Muslim should know what she's getting herself into. In Germany, no less. Leading German feminist Alice Schwarzer argued that this was tantamount to a "softening of our legal system" that is "by no means a coincidence." Germany's only minister of integration at the state level, Armin Laschet, a member of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) from the state of North Rhine Westphalia, sees the Frankfurt ruling as the "last link, for the time being, in a chain of horrific rulings handed down by German courts" -- rulings in which, for example, so-called honor killings have been treated as manslaughter and not murder.
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