Re: Muslims have descended into a vortex of self-pity and violence, says Muslim Doctor.
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- Date: 1 Feb 2007 05:33:06 -0800
Muslims have descended into a vortex of self-pity and violence, says
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Date: 31 Jan 2007 08:06:33 -0800
Local: Wed, Jan 31 2007 11:06 am
Subject: Muslims have descended into a vortex of self-pity and
violence, says Muslim Doctor.
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For Muslim Who Says Violence Destroys Islam, Violent Threats
By JOHN M. BRODER
LOS ANGELES, 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, 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
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
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
Muslim people from these wrong beliefs."
Perhaps her most provocative words on Al Jazeera were those comparing
how the Jews and Muslims have reacted to adversity. Speaking of the
Holocaust, she said, "The Jews have come from the tragedy and forced
the world to respect them, with their knowledge, not with their
terror; with their work, not with their crying and yelling."
She went on, "We have not seen a single Jew blow himself up in a
German restaurant. We have not seen a single Jew destroy a church. We
have not seen a single Jew protest by killing people."
She concluded, "Only the Muslims defend their beliefs by burning down
churches, killing people and destroying embassies. This path will not
yield any results. The Muslims must ask themselves what they can do
for humankind, before they demand that humankind respect them."
Her views caught the ear of the American Jewish Congress, which has
invited her to speak in May at a conference in Israel. "We have been
discussing with her the importance of her message and trying to
the right venue for her to address Jewish leaders," said Neil B.
Goldstein, executive director of the organization.
She is probably more welcome in Tel Aviv than she would be in
Damascus. Shortly after the broadcast, clerics in Syria denounced her
as an infidel. One said she had done Islam more damage than the
cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad, a wire service reported.
DR. SULTAN is "working on a book that - if it is published - it's
going to turn the Islamic world upside down."
"I have reached the point that doesn't allow any U-turn. I have no
choice. I am questioning every single teaching of our holy book."
The working title is, "The Escaped Prisoner: When God Is a Monster."
Dr. Sultan grew up in a large traditional Muslim family in Banias,
Syria, a small city on the Mediterranean about a two-hour drive north
of Beirut. Her father was a grain trader and a devout Muslim, and she
followed the faith's strictures into adulthood.
But, she said, her life changed in 1979 when she was a medical
at the University of Aleppo, in northern Syria. At that time, the
radical Muslim Brotherhood was using terrorism to try to undermine
government of President Hafez al-Assad. Gunmen of the Muslim
Brotherhood burst into a classroom at the university and killed her
professor as she watched, she said.
"They shot hundreds of bullets into him, shouting, 'God is great!' "
she said. "At that point, I lost my trust in their god and began to
question all our teachings. It was the turning point of my life, and
it has led me to this present point. I had to leave. I had to look
She and her husband, who now goes by the Americanized name of David,
laid plans to leave for the United States. Their visas finally came
1989, and the Sultans and their two children (they have since had a
third) settled in with friends in Cerritos, Calif., a prosperous
bedroom community on the edge of Los Angeles County.
After a succession of jobs and struggles with language, Dr. Sultan
completed her American medical licensing, with the exception of a
hospital residency program, which she hopes to do within a year.
operates an automotive-smog-check station. They bought a home in the
Los Angeles area and put their children through local public schools.
All are now American citizens.
BUT even as she settled into a comfortable middle-class American
Dr. Sultan's anger burned within. She took to writing, first for
herself, then for an Islamic reform Web site called Annaqed (The
Critic), run by a Syrian expatriate in Phoenix.
An angry essay on that site by Dr. Sultan about the Muslim
caught the attention of Al Jazeera, which invited her to debate an
Algerian cleric on the air last July.
In the debate, she questioned the religious teachings that prompt
young people to commit suicide in the name of God. "Why does a young
Muslim man, in the prime of life, with a full life ahead, go and blow
himself up?" she asked. "In our countries, religion is the sole
of education and is the only spring from which that terrorist drank
until his thirst was quenched."
Her remarks set off debates around the globe and her name began
appearing in Arabic newspapers and Web sites. But her fame grew
exponentially when she appeared on Al Jazeera again on Feb. 21, an
appearance that was translated and widely distributed by the Middle
East Media Research Institute, known as Memri.
Memri said the clip of her February appearance had been viewed more
than a million times.
"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
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,"
The other guest on the program, identified as an Egyptian professor
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.
"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."
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