Wafa Sultan has become The Muslim Who Spoke Out. That she rejects the label "Muslim," and has been daring to speak out for over two years is quite besides the point.
Albert Hirschman wrote that there are possible responses to organizational decay: Exit, Voice and Loyalty. We can either quit a system, or we can work from the inside for change, or simply soldier on like the horse Baxter in Animal Farm. It appears Dr. Wafa Sultan has chosen the first two options.
In her now famous debate with Dr. Ibrahim Al-Khouli on Al-Jazeera (aired on February 21, 2006), the Syrian-born psychologist kicked some serious ass. A sample excerpt:
The clash we are witnessing around the world is not a clash of religions, or a clash of civilizations. 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. It is a clash between freedom and oppression, between democracy and dictatorship. It is a clash between human rights, on the one hand, and the violation of these rights, on other hand. It is a clash between those who treat women like beasts, and those who treat them like human beings. What we see today is not a clash of civilizations. Civilizations do not clash, but compete.
The Jews have come from the tragedy (of the Holocaust), and forced the world to respect them, with their knowledge, not with their terror, with their work, not their crying and yelling. Humanity owes most of
the discoveries and science of the 19th and 20th centuries to Jewish scientists. 15 million people, scattered throughout the world, united and won their rights through work and knowledge. 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. The Muslims have turned three Buddha statues into rubble. We have not seen a single Buddhist burn down a Mosque, kill a Muslim, or burn down an embassy. 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.
Admittedly, there’re a lot of this sort of stuff on Desicritics as well. The difference seems to be one of authenticity. That a Muslim woman would dare to go head-to-head with a senior and respected Muslim cleric in prime time struck a nerve. According to the Memri TV, the Al-Jazeera debate has been viewed more than a million times. Dr. Al-Khouli (image shown on right), who teaches at the famed Al-Azhar university in Cairo, seems to be something of a regular on Al-Jazeera; he’s the reliably medieval voice on its Al-Itijah Al-Mu’akis (Opposite Directions) program. The dude didn’t know what hit him. At one point, the poor man was reduced to:
If you are a heretic, there is no point in rebuking you, since you have blasphemed against Islam, the Prophet, and the Koran…
He’d had plenty of forewarning. In July 2005, Dr. Sultan had knocked heads with Dr. Ahmad Bin Muhammed, an Algerian professor of politics, and in my view, even more provocative. She’s a contributor to the Annaqed, which is harshly critical of Islam and very pro-America. As a medical student in Syria, she’d been a witness to the murder of her professor in 1979 by the Muslim Brotherhood. As she told the New York Times:
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.
Wafa Sultan may be the least important character in the story. Most of her arguments are either flawed or themselves extreme; in particular, her assessment of Arabic contributions to science is incorrect. But the fact that Al-Jazeera has these debates, that the Islamic world seems to be in the process of a self-examination, that there are at least a million people who were willing to download the debate, and that it took about three weeks for the debate to become news-worthy in the Western media may be the truly interesting feature of the Wafa Sultan debate. But for now, as the poem says: may her tribe increase.