“How I learned to love the wall” & more on Wafa Sultan, other Muslim “dissidents”

March 21, 2006


1. EU funds free up money for terror
2. Most people in the west “don’t have a clue”
3. European press begins to take note of Wafa Sultan
4. Irshad Manji: Another brave Muslim woman speaks out
5. Former Taliban official attending classes at Yale
6. Swedish foreign minister resigns over Mohammed cartoons
7. Livingstone to Jews: Go back to Iran
8. “How I learned to love the wall” (By Irshad Manji, New York Times, March 18, 2006)
9. “Women at war with the mullahs” (London Sunday Times, March 19, 2006)

[Note by Tom Gross]


As the EU gives more money to the Palestinians (yesterday it donated another $78 million), Palestinian attempts to murder Israelis continue. Today, Israeli security forces discovered a 5-kilogram (11-pound) explosive belt in a car transporting a group of Palestinians on the Jerusalem-Tel-Aviv highway. The group, who were captured after a dramatic helicopter chase on Israel’s main highway, were en route to carry out a suicide bombing in the Tel Aviv area.


Following on from the Wafa Sultan video, here is another clip, which (although 16 minutes long) is worth watching in full.

Three former terrorists – Walid Shoebat, Zak Anani and Ibrahim Abdullah – speak out on American TV against Islamic terrorism, saying they deeply regret their acts of violence, and explain that the anti-Semitic and other incitement they were force fed by the authorities as children led them to want to kill. Ibrahim Abdullah points out how “we were raised to have hatred in our heart.” Zak Anani comments that what they show on western media “is the beautified nature of Islam” and that most people in the west “don’t have a clue” about the true extent of the extremism and incitement prevalent in many Islamic societies.

This interview was conducted on a small New Jersey-based cable network called CN8. It would be nice to think that in the future CNN or BBC may show honest voices like these, rather than propagandists like Hanan Ashrawi and Saeb Erekat whom they regularly invite to appear.


Meanwhile the European press has begun to take note of Wafa Sultan. Attached below is an interview with her two days ago in The Sunday Times of London. (The article was titled “Women at war with the mullahs: What drives a woman to risk a fatwa by attacking Islam.”)

For more on Wafa Sultan, see:
* “How Iran duped the west”; Iranian Holocaust (denial) conference “begins today”
* Wafa Sultan receives death threats, mainstream media attention (& other items)


Like Wafa Sultan, Irshad Manji is another brave Muslim woman who dares to speak out against Muslim extremists. In her piece titled “How I learned to love the wall” (attached below), she defends Ariel Sharon’s decision to save the lives of Israeli men, women and children by building a barrier. She criticizes the phrase “Ariel Sharon’s apartheid wall” which she says is “spewed on almost every university campus I visit in North America and Europe.”

Irshad Manji is a student at Yale, and The New York Times – which like other liberal media has in the past so often provided a forum for the extremists’ apologists in western academia – should be commended for providing her with op-ed space to say openly what many moderates think of the security barrier.

Previously the New York Times has described Irshad Manji as “Osama Bin Laden’s worst nightmare”. For more on Manji, see www.muslim-refusenik.com/aboutirshad.html.


In the Wall Street Journal yesterday, John Fund wrote of an altogether different student at Yale: Taliban official and propagandist Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi who is attending classes at the prestigious Ivy League campus.

Fund writes: “Three weeks after the New York Times revealed that former Taliban official Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi is attending classes at Yale, many at the university still have little to say about the controversy. Meredith Startz, president of the Yale Political Union, told me ‘there’s more discussion of military recruiting among people at Yale than about the Taliban student.’

“That’s partly because Ms. Startz’s own organization is discouraging discussion of the subject. The union’s vice president had invited me, along with Yale alumnus and Army veteran Flagg Youngblood, to debate both military recruitment and the Rahmatullah case, on campus March 29. But when he brought the proposal to the executive board, it was rejected…”

In his article, Fund provides an interesting historical perspective on two Yale professors – Vladimir Sokolov and Paul de Man – who were Nazi propagandists. His full article can be read here free of charge to non-Wall Street Journal subscribers.


Meanwhile the Swedish foreign minister resigned today after admitting she was responsible for closing down a web site that dared to reprint the Danish newspaper cartoons of the prophet Mohammed. She had previously said had had nothing to do with this censorship. For more on this subject, see “To be or not to be, that is the question,” not just asked by a famous fictional Dane.

In Britain, the Church of Wales announced today that it has pulped all editions of its magazine, “Prophet,” after it carried a (non-offensive) cartoon of Mohammed to accompany an article about shared religious ancestry between Christians and Muslims. The editor of the magazine has resigned for the “offense” and the Archbishop of Wales has apologized to Muslims.

Last month, in a further act of appeasement, a Cardiff University student union newspaper called “Gair Rhydd” – Welsh for “Free Word” – was withdrawn after it printed a different cartoon.

Claims by many Western journalists that there is no history of the prophet Mohammed being depicted pictorially without protests and threats from Muslims are incorrect. See Portraying the prophet from Persian art to South Park.


Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London, whose apologists (such as the Guardian newspaper) have consistently denied he is anti-Semitic, this morning told two Jewish property developers of Iraqi descent (David and Simon Reuben) that “If they’re not happy here perhaps they could go back to Iran and try it under the Ayatollahs.” Livingstone made the remarks in the midst of a press conference about the upcoming 2012 London Olympics.

Livingstone is in the midst of appealing against his 4-week suspension by the Adjudication Panel for England, which arose from his comparison of a Jewish reporter to a “concentration camp guard”. The suspension has not yet taken effect and one might think now was not a good time to make statements about Jews and those who might want to persecute them.

For more on Ken Livingstone, please see London’s mayor still refuses to apologize for “Nazi remark”.

For the record, the Reuben brothers were born in Bombay to Iraqi parents of Jewish descent and have lived in the UK for almost four decades. Among the charities they donate to is “Medical Aid for Iraqi Children.”

-- Tom Gross



How I Learned to Love the Wall
By Irshad Manji
The New York Times
March 18, 2006


On March 28, Israelis will elect a new prime minister to replace the ailing Ariel Sharon. But I’d bet my last shekel that I’ll continue to hear the phrase “Ariel Sharon’s apartheid wall.” It’s a phrase spoken – make that spewed – on almost every university campus I visit in North America and Europe.

Among a new generation of Muslims, this is what Mr. Sharon will be known for long after he leaves office: unilaterally erecting a barrier, most of it a fence, some of it a wall, that cuts Arab villages in half, chokes the movement of ordinary Palestinians, cripples local economies and, ultimately, separates human beings.

The critics have a point – up to a point.

They’re right that Palestinians are virtually wailing at “the wall.” When I went to see its towering cement slabs in the West Bank town of Abu Dis last year, an Arab man approached me to unload his sadness. “It’s no good,” he said. “It’s hard.”

“Why do you think they built it?” I asked.

The man shook his head and repeated, “It’s hard.” After some silence, he added, “We are not two people. We are one.”

“How do you explain that to suicide bombers?” I wondered aloud.

The man smiled. “No understand,” he replied. “No English. Thank you. Goodbye.”

Was it something I said? Maybe my impolite mention of Palestinian martyrs? Then again, how could I not mention them?

After all, this barrier, although built by Mr. Sharon, was birthed by “shaheeds,” suicide bombers whom Palestinian leaders have glorified as martyrs. Qassam missiles can kill two or three people at a time. Suicide bombers lay waste to many more. Since the barrier went up, suicide attacks have plunged, which means innocent Arab lives have been spared along with Jewish ones. Does a concrete effort to save civilian lives justify the hardship posed by this structure? The humanitarian in me bristles, but ultimately answers yes.

That’s not to deny or even diminish Arab pain. I had to twist myself like an amateur gymnast when I helped a Palestinian woman carry her grocery bags through a gap in the wall (such gaps, closely watched by Israeli soldiers, do exist). It made me wonder how much more difficult the obstacle course must be for people twice my age, who must travel to one of the wider official checkpoints nearby.

I appreciate that Israel’s intent is not to keep Palestinians “in” so much as to keep suicide bombers “out.” But in the minds of many Palestinians, Ariel Sharon never adequately acknowledged the humiliation felt by a 60-year-old Arab whose family has harvested the Holy Land for generations when she has to show her identity card to an 18-year-old Ethiopian immigrant in an Israeli Army uniform who’s been in the country for eight months. In that context, fences and walls come off as cruelly gratuitous.

For all the closings, however, Israel is open enough to tolerate lawsuits by civil society groups who despise every mile of the barrier. Mr. Sharon himself agreed to reroute sections of it when the Israel High Court ruled in favor of the complainants. Where else in the Middle East can Arabs and Jews work together so visibly to contest, and change, state policies?

I reflected on this question as I observed an Israeli Army jeep patrol the gap in Abu Dis. The vehicle was crammed with soldiers who, in turn, observed me filming the anti-Israel graffiti scrawled by Western activists – “Scotland hates the blood-sucking Zionists!” I turned my video camera on the soldiers. Nobody ordered me to shut it off or show the tape. My Arab taxi driver stood by, unprotected by a diplomatic license plate or press banner.

Like all Muslims, I look forward to the day when neither the jeep nor the wall is in Abu Dis. So will we tell the self-appointed martyrs of Islam that the people – not just Arabs, but Arabs and Jews – “are one”? That before the barrier, there was the bomber? And that the barrier can be dismantled, but the bomber’s victims are gone forever?

Young Muslims, especially those privileged with a good education, cannot walk away from these questions as my interlocutor in Abu Dis did. If we follow in his footsteps, we are only conspiring against ourselves. After all, once the election is over, we won’t have Ariel Sharon to kick around anymore.



Women at war with the mullahs: What drives a woman to risk a fatwa by attacking Islam
By Christopher Goodwin
The Sunday Times (of London)
March 19, 2006


It would be hard to imagine a place more remote from the violence and turmoil of the Middle East than this quiet cul-de-sac in the southern suburbs of Los Angeles. But as David Sultan opens the front door of his home he glances up and down the street anxiously.

He has good reason to be nervous: ever since Dr Wafa Sultan, his wife, appeared on Al-Jazeera, the Arabic television network, last summer she has been receiving death threats. During that and a second broadcast in February Dr Sultan, who was brought up as a Muslim in Syria, denounced the teachings and practice of Islam as “barbaric” and “medieval”.

“The clash we are witnessing around the world is not a clash of religions, or a clash of civilisations,” the impassioned 47-year-old told Al-Jazeera’s stunned audience across the Arab world. “It is a clash between civilisation and backwardness, between the civilised and the primitive, between barbarity and rationality. It is a clash between human rights on the one hand and the violation of these rights on the other, between those who treat women like beasts and those who treat them like human beings.”

The broadcasts have caused an unholy stir in the Muslim world and virtually overnight have turned Sultan, previously known only to a few for her writings on www.annaqed.com, a small Arab-American website, into one of the most controversial figures in the international debate about Islam. The broadcasts have been downloaded more than 1m times from the internet and she has been interviewed on CNN and profiled by The New York Times and Le Monde.

While some acclaim her as “a voice of reason” others have denounced her as a “heretic” and insist that she deserves to die. What seems to have most infuriated many Muslims were Sultan’s comparisons between how Jews and Muslims have coped with the tragedies that have befallen them.

“The Jews have come from tragedy and forced the world to respect them,” she said, “with their knowledge, not with their terror; with their work, not with their crying and yelling.

“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. Only the Muslims defend their beliefs by burning down churches, killing people and destroying embassies. The Muslims must ask themselves what they can do for humankind, before they demand that humankind respect them.”

Sitting in the airy living room of the spacious modern home where Sultan and her husband live, it is hard to believe this small, neatly dressed woman could be at the centre of an international firestorm. Just as improbable is that the most important and controversial critics of Islamic fundamentalism, violence and intolerance are, like Sultan, women, mostly from Islamic countries.

They include Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born Dutch politician, who has strongly criticised Islamic attitudes towards women and the widespread practice of female circumcision in Muslim north Africa; Irshad Manji, a Canadian lesbian of Pakistani descent, whose book The Trouble with Islam Today chastises Islam for its aggression towards women and for its anti-semitism; Amina Wadud, an African-American convert to Islam and Muslim academic and author, who has infuriated traditional Muslims by leading Friday prayer for Muslims in New York, a role traditionally taken only by male imams.

Other Muslim women in the front lines of the clash with Islamic governments are as diverse as Mukhtar Mai, the Pakistani village woman who was brutally gang-raped in 2002 as reprisal for an alleged transgression by her 14-year-old brother, and Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian lawyer who was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 2003 for her defence of the rights of women and children in fundamentalist Muslim Iran.

Death threats against these women are commonplace. Irshad Manji has had to install bullet-proof windows in her home. Ayaan Hirsi Ali has to travel everywhere with bodyguards after the threats against her and the death the film maker Theo van Gogh, her friend and collaborator.

Sultan never imagined her life would take this path. She was born to a large middle-class family in the Syrian port city of Banias. Her father was a grain trader, her mother a housewife. She has nine brothers and sisters. The family was devoutly Muslim and Sultan, who studied medicine at the University of Aleppo in Damascus, says she never had any reason to doubt her faith. But in 1979, when she was a student, she witnessed a horrifying crime. As she stood chatting with some other students on the university courtyard, armed members of the Muslim Brotherhood began shooting at one of her teachers, killing him on the spot.

“They filled his body with bullets as they shouted ‘Allahu akbar! Allahu akbar! (God is greatest!)’,” she recalls. She says they killed him because he was an Alawite, a member of the same Muslim sect as the Syrian president Hafez al-Assad, whom they wanted to overthrow, even though he had nothing to do with politics.

“This was the turning point of my life,” says Sultan. She began to reread the Koran closely, gradually coming to the conclusion that the violence and oppression of most Muslim governments and some of those fighting against them stemmed directly from the teachings of Islam. “I began to question every single teaching,” she says. She noticed that “there are too many verses in the Koran which say you must kill those who are non-Muslim; you must kill those who don’t believe in Allah and his messenger. I started to ask: is this right? Is this human? All our problems in the Islamic world, I strongly believe, are the natural outcome of these teachings. Go open any book in any class in any school in any Islamic country and read it. You will see what kind of teachings we have: Islam tells its followers that every non-Muslim is your enemy.”

Sultan, who worked as a family practitioner in Syria after qualifying as a doctor, also speaks about the virulent anti-semitism that was inculcated in her and all Syrian children. This made her so terrified of Jews that she refused to act the part of the Israeli prime minister Golda Meir in a school play.

“Until I came to United States I used to believe that Jewish people are not human creatures,” she says. “Unfortunately this is the way I was brought up, to believe that Jews don’t have our human features, they don’t have our human voices.”

In the first week she was in the United States she and her husband went to a shoe shop in Hollywood. Her husband asked the clerk where he was from and when he said that he was an Israeli Jew, “you can’t believe what I did”, she says. “I ran away without shoes, barefoot. My husband followed me. He said, ‘How stupid you are.’ But I said, ‘I cannot tolerate him.’ I was scared to death because he was from Israel; I reacted in a very bad, negative way, because of the way I had been raised, for the past 30 years of my life.”

Sultan and her husband, who met when they were at university, moved to the United States in 1989 with two of their children. They have since had a third. As they struggled to establish themselves – for four years she worked as a cashier in convenience stores until his small business began to prosper – she started writing about Islam, at first for local Arab newspapers, until her writings brought threats against them. Three weeks before September 11 she helped set up the Annaqed (The Critic) website where she and other writers from the Muslim Middle East have been able to put forward their critical views of Islam.

Sultan, who is now close to completing her US medical qualifications – she plans to practise psychiatry – has written two books that can be read in Arabic and is finishing a third – The Escaped Prisoner: When God is a Monster – which she hopes will also be published in English.

Sultan has no intention of stopping her attacks on Islam even though she and her family in Syria have been threatened. Two of her brothers have been interrogated by the Syrian secret police, she says, since the Al-Jazeera broadcasts. In fact, Sultan’s long intellectual journey has brought her to a radical conclusion: that reform of Islam is impossible.

“Muslims have been hostages of their beliefs and their teachings for 14 centuries,” she says. “I believe the time has come and the truth should be spoken. I know that I am waging a very difficult war. It is going to take years. I might not be able to see it in my life, but I am strongly sure that the next generation will see the fruits of my writing and my message.”

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