Speaking up and getting threatened
The friendly face of Islam
For Muslim Who Says Violence Destroys Islam, Violent Threats
By JOHN M. BRODER
Published: March 11, 2006
LOS ANGELES, March 10 — Three weeks ago, Dr. Wafa Sultan was a largely unknown Syrian-American psychiatrist living outside Los Angeles, nursing a deep anger and despair about her fellow Muslims.
Today, thanks to an unusually blunt and provocative interview on Al Jazeera television on Feb. 21, she is an international sensation, hailed as a fresh voice of reason by some, and by others as a heretic and infidel who deserves to die.
In the interview, which has been viewed on the Internet more than a million times and has reached the e-mail of hundreds of thousands around the world, Dr. Sultan bitterly criticized the Muslim clerics, holy warriors and political leaders who she believes have distorted the teachings of Muhammad and the Koran for 14 centuries.
She said the world's Muslims, whom she compares unfavorably with the Jews, have descended into a vortex of self-pity and violence.
Dr. Sultan said the world was not witnessing a clash of religions or cultures, but a battle between modernity and barbarism, a battle that the forces of violent, reactionary Islam are destined to lose.
In response, 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
"The clash we are witnessing around the world is not a clash of religions or a clash of civilizations," Dr. Sultan said. "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."
She said she no longer practiced Islam. "I am a secular human being," she said.
The other guest on the program, identified as an Egyptian professor of religious studies, Dr. Ibrahim al-Khouli, asked, "Are you a heretic?" He then said there was no point in rebuking or debating her, because she had blasphemed against Islam, the Prophet Muhammad and the Koran.
Dr. Sultan said she took those words 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.
Islam needs reformers, but politics and religion go hand in hand.
Because dissent about Islam is often mired in political resistance and people often confuse the two. So anyone calling for change is Islam is the same as defending western "oppression".
But because the US has tolerated Islam to a large degree, she's not stuck in a slum waiting to be preyed upon. She can live anonymously in the US.
Part of the problem in this is the bigotry in the West. So the first issue is always how the West has screwed Muslims. Anyone who says the way Islam is practiced might need reform instantly becomes a traitor. Cartoons don't help matters, either.
posted by Steve @ 12:03:00 AM