Friday, November 03, 2006

Dr. Wafa Sultan – One Brave Voice in A Sea of Hostility

Dr. Wafa Sultan threatened since her famous confrontation on Al-Jazeera: “We have not seen a single Jew protest by killing people. Only the Muslims defend their beliefs like that”.

On February 21, a confrontation took place on Al-Jazeera television between Dr Wafa Sultan and Ibrahim Al-Khuli, a professor of Islamic Studies from Egypt. The confrontation was on a program called “In the Opposite Direction” which was moderated by Faisal Al-Kassem, a Syrian Muslim exile. Since that time, Dr Sultan has changed from a largely unknown woman into an international sensation for her sparkling fresh message about Islam, Islamic terrorism, and that Islamic preaching leads to brutality. Eloquent and incisive, Sultan expressed a message that many before her have tried in vain to convey. The simplicity of what she said and the vehemence of her arguments powerfully affected her viewers, no one it seemed remained indifferent to what she had to say.

Since MEMRI’s (Middle East Media Research Institute) website published her interview, hundreds of thousands more people have watched the confrontation and thousands of reactions have been posted across the Internet supporting what she says. In February 2006, her message was broadcast on Israel’s Channel 10 in a report by Zvi Yehezkeli, which brought her to the notice of the Israeli public and gained her widespread public exposure. Yediot Ahronot (a popular Israeli daily) recently announced that Dr Sultan had been invited to address the conference of the American Jewish Congress to be held in Tel Aviv. The New York Times wrote that the conference is scheduled for May 2006/ 2007 in Tel Aviv. When interviewed by the Times following her last interview, Dr Sultan said that she is writing a book about Islam which “is going to turn the Islamic world upside down”.

Dr Sultan, age 47, is a Syrian-born psychiatrist, who lives in Los Angeles with her family. She was born in the city of Baniyas in Syria on the Mediterranean about two hours drive away from Beirut, Lebanon. Her life changed when she was a medical student in Aleppo University at the end of the 1970s. At that time, groups affiliated with the “Muslim Brotherhood” were waging a brutal terrorist campaign against Hafez al Assad’s regime and the Alawite community. In one operation, a group of Islamic terrorists burst into the University of Aleppo and murdered Sultan’s professor right in front of her. She recalls how they shot hundreds of bullets into his body shouting “God is great”. Her life changed at that moment, explains Dr Sultan, and she needed to search for another god for herself and her family. Only in 1989 did she receive a visa for the United States for herself her husband and her two children. Since then, another child has been born.

Beside to working as a psychiatrist, she has begun to write short political articles on Annaqed (“The Critic”) a website, which has attracted Syrian ex-pats mostly from Phoenix, Arizona. One article on the subject of the Muslim Brotherhood caught the eye of the editor of Al-Jazeera who invited her for a televised confrontation with an Algerian cleric in June 2005. Her blistering arguments against Islamic education, which preaches violence, sent shockwaves through the Arabic press and other forums. Her interview was picked up by many websites and one of them wrote the following: “Who needs Superwoman when we’ve got an Arab-American called Wafa Sultan?” But it was only after the confrontation in February 2006 that she achieved global fame and her message became a sensation in both Muslim countries and the West.
In her last televised confrontation, Dr Sultan was condemned for being a heretic by Professor Ibrahim Al-Khuli, which gave the go ahead for a campaign of vilification and intimidation to the extent that several Syrian clerics have blasted her as a traitor to Islam. The main accusation is that she has caused more damage to Islam than the publication of the caricatures of Muhammad which sparked violent reactions in the Muslim world and the West.

But, what was it about her speech that prompted such an enthusiastic response on the one hand and drew down such fury and indignation from Muslim clerics on the other. One thing which angered the clerics was her comparison between the conduct of the Jews after the Holocaust and the behavior of Muslims today. As she argued in her clear ringing tones:
"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."

In an interview with the New York Times, Dr Sultan said that beside the tremendous support she has attracted there have also been many threats against her life. However, her main concern these days is for her family in Syria who are vulnerable to attacks because of her views, which were published in the Arabic media.
By: Dr. Yohai Sela, Omedia Magazine In English, November 2006.

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