Sunday, December 24, 2006

Wafa Sultan In Readers Digest

The Call
Wafa Sultan and her husband, David, were jolted awake by the sound of a ringing telephone. It was just before dawn on a summer morning in 2005, and Wafa couldn't help feeling nervous as she hurried to take the call. Two of their three children had moved to a nearby suburb of Los Angeles to attend college. Were they okay? A voice on the line identified himself as working for Al Jazeera television, the Arabic-language network based in Qatar which, in ten years, had become the most influential news channel in the Middle East.

The producer explained that based on some pieces she had written on Islam and terrorism for his obscure Arabic-language website, a friend of Wafa's had suggested her as a guest on one of the network's programs. Wafa was stunned. She was not a professional writer, much less a scholar on the Middle East.

Though she had grown up in Syria, she had called California home for 16 years, and her days were now completely devoted to her family. Then again, she did have strong opinions about Islamic extremism, and she was utterly unafraid to express them. So if Al Jazeera wanted to talk to a wife and mother in Los Angeles about this important subject, sure, why not? Wafa accepted. What no one could have guessed was that she was about to become a controversial new voice in the Islamic world -- and for many moderate Muslims, a model of courage.

If you don't know who Wafa Sultan is, she is a Physician from Syria and she is, to my mind, among the bravest Arab voices speaking out against Islamofascism. Check out this video.

Wafa and her family fled Syria to get away from the Islamofascists. The Reader's Digest article discusses their move to America:

Wafa had never been out of Syria before, spoke little English and had two small children in tow: a four-year-old daughter and a nine-year-old son. Moreover, she lacked the credentials to practice medicine in the United States, and within a month found herself pregnant with her third child.

To make it through their first few years in Los Angeles, she and her husband worked a variety of service jobs, including trading shifts as cashiers at a Texaco station. Still, being out of Syria made them "so happy," Wafa says. She took part in the social life of the local Muslim community, yet insisted that her children "live the American life." They were taught English from the start, and while they can understand Arabic, the younger two don't speak it to this day.

But the culture Wafa left behind was never far from her mind. She started writing opinion pieces on women, Islam and radicalism for the local Arabic press. Wafa was careful not to be openly critical of religion, instead questioning an interpretation of Islam that seemed to breed terrorists and wife-beaters. Even so, some thought Wafa had gone too far. After one editorial came out, she received a phone call from a man who warned that "even in America, there are limits." The person on the line claimed to be from a prominent Islamic organization. Intimidation of this sort made Wafa nervous and her editors more timid.

Then came September 11. Watching the World Trade Center towers fall on her television screen, Wafa felt enraged and emboldened. "I don't care anymore. I will write what I want," she told David. Too few people were speaking the truth about radical Islam and she, for one, would stop holding back.

The Al Jazeera interview blindsided her, but she came prepared intellectually, as you can see from the above video. Reader's Digest records her shock at being asked to debate a man in such an openly misogynistic culture:

Sultan had no idea that someone else would be on the show to challenge her views. Raised in the Muslim culture, she certainly never expected to be placed in direct opposition to a man. Given the floor first, Sultan became impassioned as she spoke. "Religion in our countries is the sole source of education," she argued. "It is the sole source from which terrorists drink." Ahmad bin Mohammed changed the subject to President Bush. "Our guest asked how a youth blows himself up. Wasn't it better for her to ask how a President kills innocent people in Iraq?"

Sultan woke up to the reality of her first appearance on live television: This wasn't just a conversation, but an all-out debate. She drew in a breath and opened her mouth, and the words burst forth like water through a sprung levy.

Yes, she did, and her world hasn't been the same since:

The program, Sultan later found out, was watched by millions in the Middle East. When the taping ended, she left immediately with her husband for the drive back home. "You were great!" he said, beaming. Neither had any idea how drastically their lives would now change.

Sultan's cell phone was ringing from the time she and David left the station. Soon, death threats were clogging her answering machine. Her name began appearing in Arab newspapers and, ominously, on radical websites. "I was leading a quiet, peaceful life," she recalls, "and suddenly it was totally different."

It was Wafa Sultan's second appearance on Al Jazeera, last February, that brought her worldwide notoriety. This time, she debated Dr. Ibrahim Al-Khouli, an Egyptian cleric, and once again gave no quarter. "The clash we are witnessing around the world is not a clash of religions or a clash of civilizations," she declared. "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 that belongs to the 21st century." To Al-Khouli, she added, "You can believe in stones, brother, as long as you don't throw them at me."

At one point, Al-Khouli proclaimed that Sultan was blaspheming against Islam and the Prophet Mohammed. After the interview aired, Syrian clerics denounced Sultan as an infidel. The death threats mounted.

Go read the whole thing. This woman is a hero of Western Civilization, and I am very happy to see that her voice is being heard in such a traditional periodical as Reader's Digest.