There’s been so much gas released about courage in recent weeks that global warming is sure to get worse. Hollywood’s self-congratulators have sprained their shoulders attempting to pat themselves on the back for “courageous” films about homosexuality and rightwing conspiracies in the Middle East. Unfortunately, these same movie moguls have said next to nothing about a true profile in courage who lives in their own backyard: Wafa Sultan, a Los Angeles-area psychiatrist.
Sultan, 47, is making international waves for an interview she gave to Al Jazeera television—also known as al Qaeda’s mouthpiece—on February 21. Sultan, a native of Syria who came to the United States with her family in 1989, told the broadcaster that the Muslim world has plunged into self-pity and violence.
“The clash we are witnessing around the world is not a clash of religions or a clash of civilizations,” 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.”
Sultan also compared the plights of Jews and Muslims, saying the latter could learn from the former’s response to the Holocaust (which many Muslims deny):
“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.
“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. 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.”
After Sultan said she no longer followed Islam—“I am a secular human being,” she stated—The New York Times reported what happened next:
“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 [Qur’an].
“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.”
Sultan, who is now an American, has every right to take such threats seriously. Western citizenship is no protection from the fanatics.
After Salman Rushdie wrote The Satanic Verses in 1988, militant indignation grew into a crescendo, capped by the late Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa sentencing the author to death. Rushdie, a British citizen, fortunately is still alive, thanks largely to government-provided guards who accompany him everywhere. However, Theo van Gogh, the Dutch filmmaker who dared to criticize Islam in his work, was butchered on the street by an Islamist shouting, “Allah is great!”
In the face of such mindless fury, the Western media, with their Hollywood pals, have been strangely silent. Remember all the major press organizations—in response to Islamic violence and intimidation—that published the Muhammad cartoons in a principled stand for freedom of the press? Neither do I.
If she lives long enough, Wafa Sultan plans to write her own book, tentatively called The Escaped Prisoner: When God Is a Monster. Despite the dangers, Sultan has the courage of her convictions.