Friday, October 27, 2006

Wafa Sultan

Wafa Sultan is a Syrian-born psychiatrist who lives in California, now famous for aggressively confronting Al Jazeera host Faisal al-Qasim and guest Ibrahim Al-Khouli about the defects of Islam. She gave an interview to the Jerusalem Post. Some excerpts:

Jerusalem Post: "...what made you want to move to the United States?"

Wafa Sultan: "I was looking for a better life - freedom to express myself - because I was born a writer. All my teachers said so. But anyway, I secretly underwent a change before coming to America. ... But 1979 was the real turning point of our lives. It was the year I witnessed the murder of a professor of mine. While shooting him, the killers were screaming "Allahu Akbar [God is great]!"

I was in a state of shock. The sound of the bullets became associated in my mind with Allah. ... After the trauma of the murder in the name of Allah, I delved into all the Islamic texts - the Koran and the Hadith - carefully studying each, one by one. ... what I was trying to find out through my research - whether Islam is inherently violent, or whether its adherents misunderstand its teachings. The more I researched, the more convinced I became that the root was in Islam itself. I believe that beliefs drive behaviors."

JP: "Is belief-driven behavior something you come across in your work as a psychiatrist?"

Sultan: "Of course. In order to change any situation, you have to change people's behavior. And in order to change their behavior, you first have to change their belief system. Look, the Iraqi woman on the panel [Pascale Warda] told me about a case of a man killed in Iraq for selling ice, since Muhammed didn't use ice. Can you imagine? According to Sharia, selling ice is a crime! She also told me that Iraqis believe that you must not put cucumbers and tomatoes in the same bag, because cucumbers are male and tomatoes are female. This is an example of a dangerous belief system driving bad behavior."

JP: "Your view of Islam is dim, and your rejection of it indicates pessimism about its ability to reform. If so, what is the solution to its spreading radicalization?"

Sultan: "I personally don't believe Islam can be reformed. But my view is very much needed among those who wish to reform it. There are two choices: rejection or reform. My voice forces the reformists to work even harder. The first step is for the West to put pressure on Islamists to respect my right to reject Islam as much as I respect their right to believe in it. Once Muslims are free to choose, the rest will take care of itself. The real solution, in other words, is transformation, not reformation."

JP: "Christianity underwent a reformation. Why not Islam?"

Sultan: "They are not comparable. According to Islam, anyone who questions a single word of the books or teachings should be killed."

JP: "How did your own parents respond to your shift?"

Sultan: "My father died when I was 10. My mother hasn't spoken to me for two years. I understand her situation. It's tough on her. She's ashamed of me. If my family lived here in America, they might be able to understand me. But, from where they're sitting, it's a tough task."

JP: "Yet your mother is also a woman who suffered - and continues to suffer - from restrictions. Why doesn't she believe in the message that you are conveying?"

Sultan: "She, like too many women in the Islamic world, grew up with the belief that they have to have a man to protect them. My mother came to visit me in the US four times since 1989. And she got very angry whenever I asked my husband to bring me a cup of water. She reprimanded me by saying, "You're a woman; you have to serve your husband." This mentality has been shaped for 1,400 years."

JP: "Are Western feminists on your side? I have encountered Americans and Israelis who - when it comes to the rights of women in Arab countries - side with multiculturalism. Has this been your experience as well?"

Sultan: "Yes it has. I haven't received the kind of support I expected from women in the US. Recently, I gave a speech at the University of California, and during the question period, an American woman told me she didn't believe the things I was saying about Muslim men's treatment of women. She said: "Muhammed was the first man on earth to give women rights."

I responded, "Would you please tell me what some of those rights are, so I can tell Muslim women to be aware of them?"

She said, "I don't know, but I was invited to a mosque in LA, and that's what the mullah told us." Can you believe how naive these women are?"

JP: "Are the Saudis the worst among the Islamists in this respect?"

Sultan: "Yes, and I believe they Islamicized the Syrians. They are behind the trouble everywhere. In 1991, when I was relatively new to this country and struggling financially, I was offered $1,500 per month by the Saudis to cover my head and attend a mosque. In California, when you tell any American about this, he says, "Who cares?"

You have to care and you have to pay attention! Not caring and not paying attention is why we ended up with the events of September 11 - events the likes of which I expected and predicted well before."

JP: "Why did you expect such a massive terrorist attack?"

Sultan: "Two or three years prior to 9/11, a Jordanian Islamist came to LA to attend an event held by the Muslim community there. I wasn't there, but I read in the newspaper that he gave a speech in which he said, "Now we are ready to rule the world." Nobody paid attention to that but me. I wondered why nobody asked him, "What kind of political, economic, moral or psychological readiness do you have to rule the world?"

And I thought, "How stupid these Americans are. It's happening right inside their country." I wanted to tell them, "Fight terrorism here before you fight it there. Protect yourself here before you go there for that purpose." That guy knew what he was talking about when he said the Muslims were ready to rule the world."

JP: "What about suicide bombing? Is that also a tool used by leaders of Arab countries?"

Sultan: "Martyrdom is deeply rooted in our teachings. The Koran clearly states that God buys your life from you - "To kill or to be killed." But with the help of Saudi money and Wahabbism, what was written in our holy book came to life."

JP: "Are the Saudis also involved in Palestinian terrorism?"

Sultan: "No question about it. They are everywhere. People [all over] are starving for a piece of bread, while millions upon millions of dollars are being spent on building mosques. And how many Americans - if offered $1,500 a month to cover their heads or become Muslims - would turn that down? I heard the Saudis are willing to pay $1,000 to any man who changes his name to Muhammed. How many poor or homeless people would refuse that offer?"

JP: "Would a better US policy have been to throw money around, like the Saudis do, to foment revolutions in Arab countries?"

Sultan: "Why not? Dissident groups need to feel supported. I've heard that only three percent of the Syrian population have access to the Internet, for example. Why not provide them with computers, radio and TV broadcasts... so they can be exposed to different cultures, and freely choose their own way of life? Islam has been the only source of knowledge or information in the Middle East.

A few days ago, I asked a Palestinian I met: "Let's assume that all the Jews of Israel were to convert to Islam, would you still fight them?"He said, "No." In that case, the land is not the problem.

A month ago, I read on a Saudi Web site that Muhammed was walking with a group of his followers, and they heard a noise; so they asked him what it was. He said: "Oh, don't worry about that, it's only God torturing the Jews in their graves." But during the time of Muhammed, there was no Israel or America. So there you have it. Our biggest problem is religion. If we overcome that, we will be able to resolve the political problems."