March 16, 2006

Sultan of Enlightenment


Arab-American Psychologist Wafa Sultan is getting much deserved attention for recent criticisms of Islam during an Al Jazeera TV interview. This brave woman deserves our praise. I highly recommend all of the following links:

VIDEO: Interview with Wafa Sultan
TRANSCRIPT: Interview with Wafa Sultan

Wafa Sultan: The clash we are witnessing around the world is not a clash of religions, or a clash of civilizations. It is a clash between two opposites, between two eras. It is a clash between a mentality that belongs to the Middle Ages and another mentality that belongs to the 21st century. It is a clash between civilization and backwardness, between the civilized and the primitive, between barbarity and rationality. It is a clash between freedom and oppression, between democracy and dictatorship. It is a clash between human rights, on the one hand, and the violation of these rights, on other hand. It is a clash between those who treat women like beasts, and those who treat them like human beings. What we see today is not a clash of civilizations. Civilizations do not clash, but compete. ...

[...] I am not a Christian, a Muslim, or a Jew. I am a secular human being. I do not believe in the supernatural, but I respect others' right to believe in it.

Dr. Ibrahim Al-Khouli: Are you a heretic?

Wafa Sultan: You can say whatever you like. I am a secular human being who does not believe in the supernatural...

Dr. Ibrahim Al-Khouli: If you are a heretic, there is no point in rebuking you, since you have blasphemed against Islam, the Prophet, and the Koran...

Wafa Sultan: These are personal matters that do not concern you. [...] Brother, you can believe in stones, as long as you don't throw them at me.

The New York Times featured a profile of Dr. Sultan this week: For Muslim Who Says Violence Destroys Islam, Violent Threats.

In response [to Dr. Sultan's comments], clerics throughout the Muslim world have condemned her, and her telephone answering machine has filled with dark threats. But Islamic reformers have praised her for saying out loud, in Arabic and on the most widely seen television network in the Arab world, what few Muslims dare to say even in private. ...

"I believe our people are hostages to our own beliefs and teachings," she said in an interview this week in her home in a Los Angeles suburb.

Dr. Sultan, who is 47, wears a prim sweater and skirt, with fleece-lined slippers and heavy stockings. Her eyes and hair are jet black and her modest manner belies her intense words: "Knowledge has released me from this backward thinking. Somebody has to help free the Muslim people from these wrong beliefs." ...

Dr. Sultan said she took those words [the "heretic" accusation by Dr. Ibrahim Al-Khouli] as a formal fatwa, a religious condemnation. Since then, she said, she has received numerous death threats on her answering machine and by e-mail.

One message said: "Oh, you are still alive? Wait and see." She received an e-mail message the other day, in Arabic, that said, "If someone were to kill you, it would be me."

Dr. Sultan said her mother, who still lives in Syria, is afraid to contact her directly, speaking only through a sister who lives in Qatar. She said she worried more about the safety of family members here and in Syria than she did for her own.

"I have no fear," she said. "I believe in my message. It is like a million-mile journey, and I believe I have walked the first and hardest 10 miles."

TIA Daily's Robert Tranciski provide a good analysis of the above stories as well as a Los Angeles Times piece: "The Escaped Prisoner": Wafa Sultan's Forward Strategy of Intellectual Freedom.

[The interview] was Wafa Sultan's declaration of intellectual independence from Islam. It was a declaration, by an Arab speaking in Arabic to an Arab audience, that Islam is a backward, violent religion, and that a secular, free society—a culture of science, independent creative thought, and political freedom—is superior to the Islamic culture of faith. ...

[T]he fact that Wafa Sultan is not a "moderate Muslim" is precisely what makes her so important. What the Arab world needs—and what we need to deploy as our primary intellectual offensive against Islamic fanaticism, is not such a watered-down version of the same violent Islamic dogmas. As I remarked when I originally covered this story on March 1, the reason I admire Wafa Sultan is that "She's no 'moderate Muslim'—she's an uncompromising firebrand in the defense of reason and freedom."

Let us hope that this firebrand can set off a conflagration of independent thought. And let's do whatever we can to add fuel to those flames and spread them across as much of the globe as possible.

Sultan was interviewed on Israel National Radio, available at Little Green Footballs. And here is her own Web site: Annaqed.

UPDATE I -- March 17: From Stand Up; Wafa Sultan is passing by Mona Charen.

In an age that has brought us the Theo van Gogh assassination, deadly riots over a series of Danish newspaper cartoons, the Pym Fortune assassination, the death threats against Salman Rushdie, Hirsi Ali and Ibn Warraq, among many others, it requires truly remarkable courage to stare into the Al-Jazeera camera and calmly permit yourself to be labeled a heretic.

UPDATE II -- March 18: Patrick Mullins points us to the Wafa Sultan appearance on Al Jazeera from July:

VIDEO: July interview with Wafa Sultan
TRANSCRIPT: July interview with Wafa Sultan

Wafa Sultan: Why does a young Muslim man, in the prime of life, with a full life ahead, go and blow himself up? How and why does he blow himself up in a bus full of innocent passengers?

In our countries, religion is the sole source of education, and is the only spring from which that terrorist drank until his thirst was quenched. He was not born a terrorist, and did not become a terrorist overnight. Islamic teachings played a role in weaving his ideological fabric, thread by thread, and did not allow other sources – I am referring to scientific sources – to play a role. It was these teachings that distorted this terrorist and killed his humanity. It was not (the terrorist) who distorted the religious teachings and misunderstood them, as some ignorant people claim.

When you recite to a child still in his early years the verse: "They will be killed or crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off," regardless of this verse's interpretation, and regardless of the reasons it was conveyed or its time – you have made the first step towards creating a great terrorist...

Posted by Forkum at March 16, 2006 05:31 PM