Wafa Sultan receives death threats, mainstream media attention (& other items)

March 13, 2006

CONTENTS

1. Her forthcoming book: “When God Is a Monster”
2. “More damage than the Danish cartoons”
3. Mark Steyn: a clarification
4. Darfur “genocide leader” visits Britain…
5. … While Israelis face arrest
6. Elderly Jew beaten in Paris
7. Two Palestinians, 33-pound bomb apprehended
8. Update on Neturei Karta and Iran cartoon contest
9. HonestReporting to launch UK website
10. “For Muslim who says violence destroys Islam, violent threats” (NY Times, March 11, 2006)
11. “Islam fatally flawed, says voice from Corona via al Jazeera” (LA Times, March 12, 2006)
12. “The media and Islam” (By Diana West, Washington Times, March 10, 2006)



[All notes below by Tom Gross]

HER FORTHCOMING BOOK: “WHEN GOD IS A MONSTER”

Both The New York Times and Los Angeles Times carried articles this weekend on Wafa Sultan, the Arab American psychologist whose interview on al-Jazeera has now been viewed on the Internet more than a million times and has reached the e-mail of hundreds of thousands around the world.

The interview was sent out on my smaller email list to various media, politicians and political activists on the day Memri released it and sent on my larger list in the dispatch “How Iran duped the west”; Iranian Holocaust (denial) conference “begins today”.

Dr. Sultan, who grew up in a large traditional Muslim family in Banias, Syria, is now an American citizen resident near Los Angeles. She has received many death threats following her criticism (while being interviewed live on al-Jazeera) of Islamic political leaders who she believes have distorted the teachings of Muhammad and the Koran for 14 centuries.

 

“MORE DAMAGE THAN THE DANISH CARTOONS”

Clerics throughout the Muslim world have condemned her. One imam in Syria denounced her as an infidel and said she had done Islam more damage than the recent Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

But Islamic reformers have praised her for speaking the truth out loud, in Arabic and on the most widely seen television network in the Arab world.

She is presently working on a book that is likely to lead to further threats from Islamic extremists. The working title of the book is: “The Escaped Prisoner: When God Is a Monster.”

She currently writes for the Islamic reform Web site Annaqed (The Critic), which is run by Syrian-Americans. The editor of that website is a subscriber to this email list.

 

MARK STEYN: A CLARIFICATION

In the dispatch last Thursday, titled On Chechnya, Chad, and “Chinese walls in the mind”, I wrote that Britain has become a “Mark Steyn-Free Zone”. In an item now removed from this website, I noted that after the American-based Canadian journalist Mark Steyn had had his column in the Daily Telegraph stopped, The Spectator magazine had decided to stop taking his pieces too.

Andrew Neil, the Chief Executive of The Spectator, writes to point out that:

“You made a mistake in your otherwise excellent e-mail service to say Mark Steyn has been stopped from writing in The Spectator. In fact we have e-mailed, written and called Mark, but he has not answered any of our communications, perhaps because of something which has happened at the Telegraph, which has nothing to do with us, since The Spectator is now run entirely independent of the Telegraph. We would welcome Mark returning to our columns at any time of his choosing; we miss him.”

(Andrew Neil, who previously served as editor-in-chief of the (London) Sunday Times, is a subscriber to this email list.)

 

DARFUR “GENOCIDE LEADER” VISITS BRITAIN…

Major-General Salah Abdullah Gosh, the man accused of being one of the main instigators of the ongoing genocide in Darfur, visited Britain last week. The British Foreign Office, headed by Jack Straw, granted him a visa despite UN sanctions against Sudan.

While officials originally claimed the visa had been issued so Gosh could undergo “medical treatment,” they admitted that he had also met unnamed British government officials during his stay.

Gosh, who knew Osama bin Laden in the Nineties when the al-Qaeda leader was given shelter by the extremist Islamic government in Sudan, is thought to have been the chief recruiter and leader of the Janjaweed Arab militias responsible for most of the crimes in Darfur.

Gosh is number two on a widely-leaked but officially unpublished United Nations list of senior Sudanese officials who have been blamed by a UN panel of experts for conducting a campaign of widespread ethnic cleansing and mass murder in Darfur. So far that campaign has resulted in the displacement of two million people and the deaths of over 200,000.

Gosh’s name is also understood to be on a second list, which is being considered for referral on war crimes charges to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

 

… WHILE ISRAELIS FACE ARREST

Besides the fact that Gosh’s visit is astonishing in itself, it is also reveals a quite remarkable double standard when one compares it to the treatment of Israeli soldiers – who have not, just to be clear, committed acts of genocide – who have recently tried to visit Britain.

Only two weeks ago Brigadier-General Aviv Kochavi, a former Israeli soldier, cancelled his plans to study at the Royal College of Defence Studies in London because of fears he would be arrested whilst in the UK. Last September, former Israeli army officer Doron Almog did not get off his plane upon its arrival at Heathrow airport, since the day before a British court had issued a warrant for his arrest for “war crimes”.

Almog had traveled to Britain in order to give a talk about a charitable project he is involved in, in the Negev, which helps Israeli Jews and Arabs with severe mental and physical disabilities. (Almog’s own child is severely disabled.)

Those behind attempts to prosecute Almog include extremist self-hating Jews who have in the past represented a Palestinian pro-terror radical group.

Among Almog’s most famous “war crimes” was his role in the Entebbe rescue of hundreds of hostages hijacked by Palestinian terrorists to Uganda in 1976. He was the first Israeli para-reconnaissance commander to land on the runway at Entebbe, marking it for incoming Israeli airplanes and leading the capture of the airfield’s control tower in the stunning rescue operation. He also participated in the clandestine airlift of some 6,000 black Jews from Ethiopia to Israel in the 1980s.

Israel’s defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, called on “countries that suffer from terrorism at home” not to take legal action against “soldiers and officers who acted legally against vicious and atrocious terror”.

For more on Almog, see the dispatch of Sept. 15, 2005 titled Islamic militant Hizb ut-Tahrir infiltrates Reuters (& Prince Harry apologizes).

For more on Darfur, see last week’s dispatch On Chechnya, Chad, and “Chinese walls in the mind”.

 

ELDERLY JEW BEATEN IN PARIS

Last week, on March 10, the Paris criminal court found French comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala guilty of inciting racial hatred in comments he made to the “Journal du Dimanche” on February 8, 2004.

The presiding judge commented: “The statements’ only target, despite the defendant’s denial, is the Jewish community as such... Under cover of stigmatizing his detractors, M’Bala M’Bala attacks Jews by assimilating them to slave traders who founded their empires and fortunes on the trade in blacks and slavery... The use of the virulent term “negrier” (slave driver) and the confusion the defendant makes by using and mixing anti-Semitic stereotypes – the enriched slave trader, the banker, the Zionist militant, the terrorist who supports Sharon – can only produce on the reader a feeling of violence or hatred towards the Jewish community presented under such despicable traits.”

For more on Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, please see Fury at French comic’s “Heil Israel” jibe.

Also on March 10, there was the fourth violent assault on French Jews in a week. A 70-year-old Parisian Jew was struck in the head by a man who called her a “dirty Jew.” The police arrested a 30-year-old man of North African origin.

 

TWO PALESTINIANS, 33-POUND BOMB APPREHENDED

Palestinian attempts to murder Israeli citizens continue on an almost daily basis. Last Friday, a Kassam rocket hit Kibbutz Gabim resulting in a teenage girl being treated for shock.

The Jerusalem police say that the recent rash of stabbings of Jews in the Jerusalem area was due to newly constructed sections of the security fence. Terrorists were increasingly using knives because the barrier meant it was harder for people to enter the Israeli capital carrying bomb belts, despite sustained attempts by Palestinian terror groups to do so.

For example, two Palestinians whom police believe were preparing to give an explosive belt to a would-be suicide bomber were apprehended en route to Israel yesterday at the Beit Iba checkpoint north of Nablus in the West Bank. Police sappers safely detonated the 33 pounds of explosives. The attack had been planned by Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an arm of president Abbas’s Fatah party. The apparent target was a children’s party to mark the Jewish festival of Purim which is being celebrated this week.

 

UPDATE ON NETUREI KARTA AND IRAN CARTOON CONTEST

The mainstream media are now reporting the visit of the Jewish anti-Zionist group, the Neturei Karta, to Iran, first reported on this email list in the dispatch “How Iran duped the west”; Iranian Holocaust (denial) conference “begins today”.

For example, Agence France Presse (AFP) wrote about it yesterday, in this article republished on Yahoo news.

The Iranian contest to find the “best” Holocaust denial / insult cartoon is still under way. A website for the competition has begun to post some of the entries and also announces details of the awards including a $12,000 prize for the winner. So far, entries have been submitted from 35 countries. The cartoons can be seen at www.irancartoon.com.

At this stage the cartoons exhibited on that page are not nearly as bad as the anti-Semitic cartoons which regularly appear anyway in the Arab press.

 

HONESTREPORTING TO LAUNCH UK WEBSITE

HonestReporting, the media monitoring organization, have announced that they will launch a British website focusing on British media coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Simon Plosker, senior editor for HonestReporting UK (and a subscriber to this email list), commented that “the British media has been, over a sustained period of time, a source of concern for Israel, the British Jewish community and anyone interested in seeing fair and balanced reporting of the Middle East.” The new website (www.honestreporting.co.uk) will be available from Thursday.

***

I attach three articles. The first two, on Wafa Sultan, are from the New York and LA Times and have summaries first.

But lest anyone thinks that The New York Times is suddenly covering Islam in the critical way it covers the Jewish and Christian worlds, it is not. I also attach an article from The Washington Times, “The media and Islam” by Diana West. West, who is a subscriber to this email list, points out that in the 11,000-plus word, three-part article, devoted to an imam named Reda Shata who presides over the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, the New York Times failed to once mention the day in March 1994 when a man walked out of that same Bay Ridge mosque and, inspired by the viciously anti-Jewish sermon of the day (delivered by another imam), armed himself and opened fire on a van carrying Hasidic Jewish children. Ari Halberstam, 16, was killed. The Times series, as it happened, concluded on the 12th anniversary of his death.

-- Tom Gross

 

SUMMARIES

“SOMEBODY HAS TO HELP FREE THE MUSLIM PEOPLE FROM THESE WRONG BELIEFS”

“For Muslim Who Says Violence Destroys Islam, Violent Threats” (By John M. Broder, The New York Times, March 11, 2006)

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.

… 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.

Dr. Sultan, who is 47, said in an interview this week: “Knowledge has released me from this backward thinking. Somebody has to help free the Muslim people from these wrong beliefs.”

Perhaps her most provocative [The New York Times’s term] 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.”

… 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 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 student at the University of Aleppo, in northern Syria. ... Gunmen of the Muslim Brotherhood [the parent organization of Hamas] 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 for another god.” … She said she no longer practiced Islam. “I am a secular human being,” she said.

 

“ISLAM IS BEYOND REPAIR”

“Islam Fatally Flawed, Says Voice From Corona Via Al Jazeera” (By Teresa Watanabe, The Los Angeles Times, March 12, 2006)

… In remarks Sunday at her Corona home, Sultan, who said she left the faith after witnessing an act of religious extremism, went even further [than her recent al Jazeera interview], saying Islam was beyond repair with teachings that exhorted Muslims to kill non-Muslims, subjugate women and disregard human rights.

“I don’t believe you can reform Islam,” Sultan said. Saying Islamic scriptures are riddled with violence, misogyny and other extremist ideas, she declared, “Once you try to fix it, you’re going to break it.”

… Following Sultan’s Al Jazeera remarks … she is being plied with interview requests from CNN, FOX, “Good Morning America” and public radio. Her e-mail in-box is filled with messages from well-wishers around the world – mostly non-Muslims – praising her “courage,” offering donations and pitching proposals to make a documentary about her life.

… But the flurry of interest among non-Muslims contrasts oddly with the near silence among Muslims themselves… “I haven’t come across any indication that people are discussing her,” said Abdulaziz Sachedina, a University of Virginia Islamic studies professor who was blacklisted eight years ago by Iraqi Ayatollah Ali Sistani for his reformist ideas that women were equal to men and all Abrahamic faiths were equally respectable. “Cyberspace is almost silent.”

… “Reform is alive and well within Islam, but it will only happen by those from within Islam and not those who hate Islam,” said Hussam Ayloush, who heads the Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Some Muslims, however, have embraced at least part of Sultan’s message. Ani Zonneveld of the Progressive Muslim Union in Los Angeles, who has been fighting to gain wider acceptance of female musicians in Islam, said she put the link to Sultan’s Al Jazeera interview on her personal website, under the title, “Wafa Sultan Rocks!” But Zonneveld said Sultan’s critiques were not new. Plenty of practicing Muslims, including Zonneveld, have been outspoken in criticizing the way some Muslims interpret their tradition’s teachings on women, human rights and interfaith relations, she said.



FULL ARTICLES

“I BELIEVE OUR PEOPLE ARE HOSTAGES TO OUR OWN BELIEFS AND TEACHINGS”

For Muslim Who Says Violence Destroys Islam, Violent Threats
By John M. Broder
The New York Times
March 11, 2006

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.

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.”

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 devise 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 Danish 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 student at the University of Aleppo, in northern Syria. At that time, the radical Muslim Brotherhood was using terrorism to try to undermine the 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 for another god.”

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 in 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 has completed her American medical licensing, with the exception of a hospital residency program, which she hopes to do within a year. David 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 life, 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 Brotherhood 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 source 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 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.

“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.”

 

“I AM NOT AGAINST MUSLIM PEOPLE… I AM JUST TRYING TO CHANGE THEIR MENTALITY AND BEHAVIOUR”

Islam Fatally Flawed, Says Voice From Corona Via Al Jazeera
Wafa Sultan, who tells a tale of terror from Syria, draws lots of Western media attention but not as much from Muslims
By Teresa Watanabe
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
March 12, 2006

www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-sultan13mar13,0,2410999.story?coll=la-home-headlines

She’s no longer a Muslim, has never connected with progressive Islamic groups and does not know the writings of Islam’s most respected voices of reform.

So why is Wafa Sultan, a 47-year-old Southern California woman, suddenly in the news as a fresh voice of reason and reform about Islam?

In a blunt interview on Al Jazeera television last month, Sultan harshly criticized Islam as violent and unfavorably compared Muslims to Jews. In remarks Sunday at her Corona home, Sultan, who said she left the faith after witnessing an act of religious extremism, went even further, saying Islam was beyond repair with teachings that exhorted Muslims to kill non-Muslims, subjugate women and disregard human rights.

“I don’t believe you can reform Islam,” Sultan said. Saying Islamic scriptures are riddled with violence, misogyny and other extremist ideas, she declared, “Once you try to fix it, you’re going to break it.”

Sultan’s Al Jazeera remarks have been widely circulated by such groups as the Middle East Media Research Institute, or MEMRI, a Washington-based translation service founded by a former Israeli colonel, and the American Jewish Congress. She made the New York Times front page and is being plied with interview requests from CNN, FOX, “Good Morning America” and public radio. Her e-mail in-box is filled with messages from well-wishers around the world – mostly non-Muslims – praising her “courage,” offering donations and pitching proposals to make a documentary about her life.

“This woman, at great personal risk, has decided to come forward not only in English but also in Arabic to discuss what’s wrong with Islam and the Muslim world, ” said Allyson Rowen Taylor of the American Jewish Congress, which has invited her to visit Israel. “She blames the mullahs and clerics for distorting the teachings of the Koran for 14 centuries and speaks about the anger and despair of fellow Muslims.”

But the flurry of interest among non-Muslims contrasts oddly with the near silence among Muslims themselves, many of whom say she is a largely unknown figure not causing any particular stir.

“I haven’t come across any indication that people are discussing her,” said Abdulaziz Sachedina, a University of Virginia Islamic studies professor who was blacklisted eight years ago by Iraqi Ayatollah Ali Sistani for his reformist ideas that women were equal to men and all Abrahamic faiths were equally respectable. “Cyberspace is almost silent.”

He said he first heard of her a few weeks ago, when the American Jewish Congress sent him an e-mail with a link to her Al Jazeera interview, which was translated from Arabic into English by MEMRI. Sachedina said he agreed with some of her remarks, including her criticism that too many Muslim rulers fail to protect human rights. But he objected to what he called her “vilification” of the entire tradition.

Other Muslims questioned why groups outside the faith were so avidly promoting a non-Muslim to criticize Islam, a practice that has occurred before and is a sore spot in the Islamic community, particularly since many respected Muslims also advocate change.

“Reform is alive and well within Islam, but it will only happen by those from within Islam and not those who hate Islam,” said Hussam Ayloush, who heads the Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Some Muslims, however, have embraced at least part of Sultan’s message. Ani Zonneveld of the Progressive Muslim Union in Los Angeles, who has been fighting to gain wider acceptance of female musicians in Islam, said she put the link to Sultan’s Al Jazeera interview on her personal website, under the title, “Wafa Sultan Rocks!” But Zonneveld said Sultan’s critiques were not new. Plenty of practicing Muslims, including Zonneveld, have been outspoken in criticizing the way some Muslims interpret their tradition’s teachings on women, human rights and interfaith relations, she said.

Sultan herself says she’s making a difference. In her interview Sunday, she said growing numbers of Muslims were getting in touch with her to discuss her views. That’s a sign, she believes, that she is causing them to rethink their tradition.

“I am trying to push them to doubt their teachings,” she said. “My message is effective, and it’s doing the job I want it to.”

A Syrian native, Sultan said she walked away from the faith of her family 27 years ago, when she witnessed the murder of her professor by members of the Muslim Brotherhood, an extremist organization then battling the Syrian government. She said the men burst into her classroom at the University of Aleppo in northern Syria, where she was a medical student, and gunned him down, screaming, “Allah is great!”

“That was the turning point of my life,” she said. “I was traumatized. I lost faith in God – or their God – and started to question every single teaching of ours.”

She said that, a decade later, after practicing medicine in Syria, she and her husband moved to the United States, where she initially worked as a cashier and studied English at Cal State Long Beach. Today, the couple have three children. Her husband, David, runs an automotive smog-check station. She said she is waiting for acceptance into a residency program before she can be fully certified to practice psychiatry here.

But Sultan said her prime passion has always been speaking out about Islam, something she finally had the freedom to do after arriving in the United States. She began writing regular columns for a local Arabic-language newspaper. Five years ago, she began contributing to a website, www.annaqed.com, after the Arabic reference to “the critic.”

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks brought her critiques new audiences. Last year, she began appearing on Al Jazeera, the world’s most popular Arabic-language television network. Her appearance last month, however, attracted particular attention because she praised Jews for working hard to rebuild their community after the Holocaust, favorably comparing it to violent reactions by Muslims to their plights, whether in response to satirical Danish cartoons or subjugation in the Palestinian territories.

She said she has received death threats and been accused by Muslims of pandering to Christians and Jews with her critiques of Islam.

But Sultan insists that her motives are pure.

“I am not against Muslim people,” she said. “They are my people. I am just trying to change their mentality and their behavior.”

 

“ALL THE NEWS THAT’S FIT TO PRINT, APPARENTLY, DOESN’T INCLUDE THE HEART OF THE MATTER”

The media and Islam
By Diana West
The Washington Times
March 10, 2006

www.washtimes.com/op-ed/dwest.htm

Way back when I was a cub reporter at this newspaper, I got hold of a book about the “art” of interviewing. It was a thin book. There was no use spending thousands of words to tell a reporter, cub or old Grizzly, to bone up on a subject and let natural curiosity take its course.

That thin book came to mind on reading a three-part series in the New York Times about an imam named Reda Shata who presides over the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, N.Y. As far as the art of interviewing goes, the reporter got it exactly backward: Thousands of words; negligible expertise; and no curiosity.

Both the New York Post and the New York Sun have already pounced on the most egregious flaw of omission: not a mention, in 11,000-plus words, of the day in March 1994 when a man walked out of that same Bay Ridge mosque and, inspired by the anti-Jewish sermon of the day (delivered by a different, unidentified imam), armed himself and opened fire on a van carrying Hasidic Jewish children. Ari Halberstam, 16, was killed. The Times series, as it happened, concluded on the 12th anniversary of his death.

Such journalistic jaw-droppers abound: gaping holes, like the one above, but also dead ends that leave countless questions that the female reporter, it seems, never thought to ask. For example, she notes, over six months of interviews, the Egyptian-born imam refused to shake her hand. “He offers women only a nod,” she writes. Why is shaking hands with a woman “improper”? What does the imam think about sexual equality? She doesn’t tell us. In Belgium last year, she doesn’t mention, the female president of the parliament made headlines for canceling a meeting with an Iranian delegation over this same refusal to shake a woman’s hand (the parliamentarian’s own), while in Holland, the English-language blog Zacht Ei reported, a Muslim man lost a month’s worth of welfare benefits for not only refusing to shake hands with female municipal employees, but also refusing to acknowledge their presence. This is supposed to be “the story of Mr. Shata’s journey west,” but the story bypasses such landmark issues.

Instead, we get a load of happy talk: “Married life in Islam is an act of worship,” Mr. Shata says. So impressed were the editors of the New York Times by this load that they ran the quotation, not just above the fold, but across the very top of the front page over a gold-bathed family photo four columns wide. Does Miss Reporter ask the imam to reconcile this ecstatic notion with the Islamic custom of arranged and forced marriages, the spate of spousal abuse and “honor killings” within European Muslim communities – as recounted in clarifying detail in Bruce Bawer’s important new book, “While Europe Slept” – or the tradition of polygamy which exists to this day in portions of Islamic society?

No, no and no. She writes: “One Brooklyn imam reportedly urged his wealthier male congregants during a Ramadan sermon last year to take two wives. When a woman complained about the sermon to Mr. Shata, he laughed. ‘You know that preacher who said Hugo Chavez should be shot?’ he asked,” referring to a comment by Pat Robertson about the Venezuelan leader. “‘We have our idiots, too.’ “One clumsy feint and presto – the New York Times loses all interest in polygamy, from Mohammed’s Mecca to Bloomberg’s New York.

Then there was the series’ look at terrorism. “What I may see as terrorism, you may not see that way,” Mr. Shata says. What does he mean by that? The reporter doesn’t tell us. Hamas is a powerful symbol of resistance, he says; the assassinated Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin was the “martyred” “lion of Palestine,” he sermonizes; and yet the imam says he condemns all violence. How does he square that? She doesn’t tell us. And when he sanctions violence against soldiers, not civilians, how does he define “soldier” and “civilian”? She doesn’t tell us that, either.

When asked about a 2004 sermon that “exalted” a female suicide bomber as a “martyr,” Mr. Shata seems “unusually conflicted,” the reporter writes. He declines to comment for fear of “[inviting] controversy,” and alienating New York rabbis he has “forged friendships with.” And there the question lies: She just lets him slip away. All the news that’s fit to print, apparently, doesn’t include the heart of the matter.


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.