Breakout from Islam’s mental prisonby Janet Albrechtsen
Wednesday August 22, 2007
from the Australian
I AM sitting in a small book-lined room in Sydney's eastern suburbs with a petite woman in her late 40s dressed in a neat suit and sensible shoes.
Can this be the woman recently described as an "international sensation"? The woman who drove an American rabbi to publicly accuse her of being "Islam's Ann Coulter"? The woman who last year made it on to Time magazine's list of 100 most influential people? Is she really the "uncompromising firebrand in the defence of reason and liberty". Yes, she is. Meet Wafa Sultan.
Last year, the Syrian-born psychiatrist, who has lived in the US for almost 20 years, catapulted herself into the centre of the critical issue of our time: how will Islam embrace modernity? She entered the battle of ideas in a fiery debate with an Islamic scholar on Al Jazeera television when she criticised Islam for its backwardness, for shunning knowledge and progress, for propagating a "mentality that belongs to the Middle Ages".
One question not often asked is why a growing number of Muslim women are speaking out, demanding a reformation of Islam. And the next question is why these brave women are not hailed as heroes and champions by Western leaders at the highest levels. They operate at the fringes on the right side of a crucial battle of ideas. It's still just a handful. Women such Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somalia-born former Dutch MP and author of Infidel, and Irshad Manji, African-born Canadian Muslim and author of The Trouble with Islam. And Sultan.
The answer to the latter question is one for us to ponder. Sultan is unapologetically curt as to why Muslim women are rising to the challenge: "Muslim women have lost everything. They have nothing to lose by speaking up." The security surrounding her visit to Australia last week attests to the fact women such as Sultan have, on the contrary, plenty to lose. They risk their lives when they speak out. Whether you agree with Sultan or not, her arguments about Islam ought to be met with words, not violence. Yet Sultan is used to constant security, FBI visits and daily death threats.
Late on Sunday evening she sent me a collection of them, including this: "I'm warning you to back up or the sword will cut off you're neck."
A crackpot, perhaps. But the slaughter of controversial filmmaker Theo van Gogh in The Netherlands, the heart of multicultural Europe no less, is a reminder that some crackpots deliver on their violent threats. Yet, for Sultan, the choice was obvious. She eschews Islam because, she says, it has so little to offer women. She describes Islam as a war against women, perverted by fear of sex and sexuality that mandates the mistreatment of women.
Sultan spoke to The Australian about her life. "I remember as a little girl trying hard to avoid passing by my father while he was praying because Mohammed once said that if a dog or a woman passes by a man while he was praying he had to rewash himself and pray again, otherwise his prayer wouldn't be accepted.
"I remember hearing as an eight-year-old girl that a woman is nothing but shame. Her marriage will cover up one-tenth of her shame and her grave will cover up the rest of it. Can you imagine, at eight, being consumed by shame just because you are female?" she asks.
Many find Sultan's message too confrontational. Her friends have asked her to soften her words. But she refuses, arguing that her experience as an Arab Muslim woman needs to be exposed. She says that before the Al Jazeera interview, her focus was on educating people in the Arabic world.
"In my (Arabic) writing, I always compare my life in Syria and my life in America, and I let my readers reach a conclusion ... they have never heard such voices as mine."
She receives hundreds of emails each week and thousands of people in Arabic countries click on to her website. She describes the world as a small village, thanks to the internet, where others have the chance to hear and understand what is going on
They see how women in the West are treated. "When they compare it with themselves, they question: 'Why? Why only us? Why don't we enjoy our lives they same way Western women do?"'
The Al Jazeera interview was the West's formal introduction to Sultan. And she attracts her fair share of Western critics. She is, some say, manipulated by Jews and Americans. But, as she points out, "the Islamic media introduced me to the West, not the other way around. Prior to my interview, I didn't have any Jewish friends. I said it because I believe it."
The American rabbi who walked out on Sultan at a conference complained that she failed to allude to a healthy, peaceful Islamic alternative.
Yet Sultan is certain that Islam can reform and will reform if exposed to enough information and if Muslims are able to make choices.
"Human beings look for the best, but many Muslims don't know the best ... they are hostages of their own belief system for many centuries and now I believe, because of the internet, they are exposed to different cultures, different thoughts, different belief systems ... if they are given the freedom to choose, I believe they are ready to mix Islam with other thoughts, to improve it," she says in a voice filled with passion.
But it will be a long battle of ideas.
"Look at any Islamic country. Tell me what you see. Poverty, backwardness, oppression, dictatorship, miserable lives. Somehow we have to help them change their way of thinking, their way of life. We have to re-create a new generation clean of hatred. We have been consumed by hatred. We are not practising our humanity. It's very sad."
Her message is clear. The West must be more confident about espousing its own values. And Islam must accept criticism as a sign of intellectual rigour if it is to reform into a belief system that embraces freedom and progress for its followers. Sultan is full of hope that the information revolution has cracked the wall around the Islamic prison. Not just for Muslim women.
I read another email she has translated from a 16-year-old Palestinian boy in Ramallah: "Without you, I would have been a suicide bomber. They taught me how to bomb, instead of teaching me to listen to music, or to enjoy looking at a beautiful painting. I don't believe you're human, you're a god."
Say what you will about Sultan's uncompromising message. She is part of a brigade of women, each in their own way dragging Islam into the 21stcentury.
Tell us what you think
"What an amazing and courageous woman. May her words be taken to heart!"
People quote the Koran for evidence of incitement to jihad, killing, dying and terrorism to become rulers of the world.
It is not just the books that are the cause of the problems today. Our ancient texts when read by themselves can be just as vicious, The difference is that our fundamentalists are not the mainstream, while theirs are.They have millions, but so have we.We have to insist that they discard the evil parts of the Quran and concentrate on the good parts. Dogma has to be replaced by theology!
Posted by MM
There is no doubt that Islam is a religion which may inculcate in some of its followers a desire to kill and die for Allah! But I strongly believe that their religion alone is not the cause of their current inability to come to terms with the 21st Century and modernity in terms of human relations! I believe that they use their religion as an excuse to hold onto power: the power of the Fundamentalists over the people; the power of the political leadership who use the religious leadership to hold on to their dictatorships; and finally the power of men over women. We are not going to change their religion. What we can do is take them away from its evil teachings and from their evil leaderships. The softest targets are our Muslims in the West,- particularly their women. But as long as the West pursues an agenda of "political correctness",- e.g. Islam is a religion of peace, etc.- then let us tell them: prove it!
. My plan would be:1.Stop feeling sorry for the "poor Palestinians".An article by Thomas Friedman about Israel's modern high-tech lifestyle produced a reply that Israelis have the same dream as the Americans have. Yes, they of course they do,-but it sure is different to what those Arabs can produce,- "because they are occupied"? What a pitiful excuse for laziness, stupidity and "dhimmitude",- the sheer Islamic fundamentalist attitude to not allowing infidels to show them up! Some of our people and the Western world feel sorry for them? Why do the Palestinians deserve more than the millions of other Arabs living in the same miserable conditions? Because those guys can't rise above their miserable cultural dependency on the 'powers above' and on the female subjugation beneath? I only feel sorry for the poor Israelis who have to control them in order for Israel to survive.I feel sorry for all of us who have to live in fear of their terrorism. 2. All regular columnists and NGOs should start writing and targeting the wrong parts of a culture that glorifies death, subjugates its women and shuns education and democracy and glorifies theocracy. 3.Forget "political correctness" and make everyone conform to the same standards of peaceful coexistence in our multicultural societies. 4.Make sure that those who promote notions of a "caliphate","dhimmitude" and sim. mores become outcasts in their society! 5. Don't be intimidated by the Islamists. Learn from the Israelis,- they have to survive in a their midst and they do it day-in and day-out! We have the brains and the brawn to overcome them.
I find arguments about the details of the Islamic religion not constructive nor productive. All religions can be picked to pieces when their texts are read. It is what their leaders and particularly the fundamentalists teach their flock that makes a difference. We are not able to influence anyone in the Islamic world, but we can do so among our citizens in the Western countries. The Janet Albrechstens and Pamela Bones of our country and Wafa Sultan and the few other Moslem women in the West who dare to speak out, must be supported and then more will follow them. "Political correctness" stops the Western women's Movement from supporting these women,- while the Moslem women feel under threat and become defensive. It's the old story of our Western "Women's Liberation Movement" of the '60s and '70s and the mainstream women who were virulently against them.The "housewives" felt under threat! It's no longer an issue and the same will happen to the Moslem women, as long as we all are not afraid to encourage their liberation! The Islamic world's women may then be emboldened and supported by their sisters in the West to become more liberated. Then we may see a shift in the fundamentalists' hold on power! Nazism failed,Communism failed,Islamism will also fail,- but the human cost is unfortunately too high. The women though definitely hold the key to Islamic enlightenment.
The debate among Moslem women who keep their old traditions and the modern Moslem generation as well as with the Western world as a whole,is very much like the "women's liberation movement" of the '60s and '70s with the traditional stay-at-home wife and mother of that era, who felt threatened and inferior to the working-wives & mums! Among Western Moslem women, things will change in another generation,- even the young educated girls of today, while still yearning for their menfolk's approval, I hope won't tolerate their sexist attitudes, no matter what their chauvinistic Imams may inculcate in their male flocks.
Waleed Aly says: Certainly, though, the intellectual battle - call it a gender jihad, if you must - is indispensable for change. But it is a battle that must be won in the West as much as the East. Only when Muslim women are treated as human beings whose views matter and who are valued in their own right will we have cause for optimism. As long as they remain symbols, and as long as those symbols are invoked by opposing sides in obnoxious rhetorical wars of culture, they will continue to be little more than a battlefield. Relentlessly discussed, never consulted, invariably exploited. Waleed Aly | August 25, 2007 From: The Australian