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Germany

When Freedom Gets the Death Sentence

The murder of a Turkish woman and the applauding of the crime by some students have left Berlin shaken and officials pushing for ethics class. But how deep does the concept of honor run among some immigrant communities?

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Hatin Sürücü: Was her move to live life on her own terms her undoing?

On a cold afternoon this week, Hatin Sürücü gazed gravely from a large poster behind a bus stop lined with flowers, cards and candles.

To the people who came to this bleak part of Berlin's Tempelhof district for Tuesday's solemn vigil -- called not by the city's Muslim community but a gay and lesbian organization -- the image of the young woman in a headscarf, a baby in her arms, was familiar from newspapers and television. A few notes at the memorial read, "Hope you get a better deal in your next life," and "Live a life on your own terms."

"It's a scandal," said Ali K, 33. "All Muslims in Berlin should take to the streets to protest." Yasemin, 22, said, "It's horrific. All Hatin was doing was leading her life the way she wanted."

But it was a choice she paid for with her life. On Feb. 7, 23-year-old Hatin Sürücü was gunned down at the aforementioned bus stop. She died on the spot. Shortly afterwards, three of her brothers -- who reportedly had long been threatening her -- were arrested. Investigators suspect it was a so-called "honor killing," given the fact that Sürücü's ultra-conservative Turkish-Kurdish family strongly disapproved of her modern and "un-Islamic" life.

Sürücü grew up in Berlin and was married off at 16 to a cousin in Istanbul. After a few years, she returned to the German capital with her young son, moved into a home for single mothers, completed school and began to train as an electrician. She stopped wearing a headscarf and was said to be outgoing and vivacious.

"She lived like a German"

Türken in Deutschland Koranschule in Berlin

Turkish women in a mosque in Berlin's Kreuzberg district

Though not the first of its kind, the brazen shooting has sent shockwaves through Berlin, home to a large foreign community and which for years has fretted over steady ghetto-building in districts dominated by Turkish and Arab immigrants. While the incident has reopened debate on the integration of immigrants and the compatibility of Islamic values with Western ones, it’s the reaction of a small group of Turkish students to the murder that has rattled the German capital.

Days after Hatin Sürücü was killed, some male students of Turkish origin at a high school near the scene of the crime reportedly downplayed the act. During a class discussion on the murder, one said, "She (Hatin Sürücü) only had herself to blame," while another remarked "She deserved what she got --the whore lived like a German." The school's director promptly dashed off a letter to parents and students, castigating the students and warning that the school didn’t tolerate incitement against freedom.

"Her lifestyle didn't fit"

The comments have sparked outrage and left many asking if it was just a one-off or whether such thinking is in fact not entirely uncommon among sections of the Muslim community in the city.

Unterricht türkische Schülerinnen mit Kopftuch im Schulzentrum in Bremen

According to some, it isn't. "There isn't a single school with a high foreign population where teachers haven't faced this kind of thing, where individual students sometimes regard murder as a just sentence," said Heinz Wagner, head of school and education policy at the VBE teachers trade union and a school director himself. Referring to the controversial remarks on Sürücü's murder, he said, "The very fact that they decided to provoke with something like that tells you that they're getting their ideas from somewhere."

At Berlin's Turkish-dominated neighborhood near Kottbusser Tor in the Kreuzberg district, 17-year-old Erkan, a high school student of Turkish origin, was divided about the issue. "I'm not saying you should murder, but Hatin's lifestyle just didn't fit the way traditional Muslims live," he said.

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