Wafa Sultan is the fiesty Syrian-American psychiatrist who has appeared on Al-Jazeera TV and debated Islamic scholars, most famously in late February (around the time of the caricatures controversy) when she gave a heated polemic on the clash of mentalities and eras, between “mentality that belongs to the Middle Ages and another mentality that belongs to the 21st century.”
Thomas Friedman, ever so keen to discover ‘voices of reason’ from within the the Arab world, characteristically caught on with this line and wrote an op-ed, Dubai and Dunces in the NY Times. So did the group MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute,) who excerpted the debate (mostly only Ms. Sultan’s thundrous monologues) and put it on their website. I recommend that you watch it: it’s short, subtitled, simplistic and uncomplicated, and answers every question you ever had about Islamic backwardness -and it’s highly entertaining:
Here is a particularly interesting exchange:
Wafa Sultan: 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.
Host: I understand from your words that what is happening today is a clash between the culture of the West, and the backwardness and ignorance of the Muslims?
Wafa Sultan: Yes, that is what I mean.
Well, I have a feeling that most of these illustrous and enlightened ex-Muslims who have emerged from the darkest depths of this faith are engaging in precisely that kind of behavior which they fight most bitterly against. Maybe I am wrong, but I truly hope that unlike some of the most dogmatic and fundamentalist of clerics of Islam, these critics of Islam do not feel that they need not explain their claims, or substantiate their charges, and that they should be followed unquestioningly. The Individual right to freedom of expression and to engaging in open debate is a worthy value that these illustrous critics of Islam have found in the West and have put to good use, but openness is not the only condition for productive debate. Debate should also be informed debate, otherwise it becomes unsubstantiated and hate-filled polemic. It should also be civic debate, otherwise it becomes a barrage of insults.
From Salman Rushdie, to Ayan Hirsi Ali, to Manji Irshad, and now to Wafa Sultan, the message that most ordinary Muslims around the world hear is this: that Muslims are all ignorant, backward, oppressive, violent, women-abusing, suicide-bombing, jew-hating, religious (bordering on/equivalent to superstitious), fundamentalist bunch -and they are bound to remain so by virtue of their religion.While I do not agree with these charges, or with the counter-productive method in which they are advanced, or with the over-generalized and simplistic mindsets that they are evidence of, I can tolerate them. I think that most ordinary Muslims would tolerate them too. They would not agree with it, they would not like it, they would have their feelings hurt, they would feel misunderstood and misrepresented, but they would not try to take an initiative to kill the people who said these things.
The answer to these charges, however, do not come from the ordinary Muslims. In a behavior that often seems to vindicate those charges, clerics and mullahs issue death sentences, and/or extremists try to kill them. Left in the middle are the ordinary people who have their feelings doubly hurt -first by the insults hurled at them by the first group, then by the injury added as the other group tries to kill the first. They don’t identify with either bunch, either with the flaming apostates and satirists of Islam, or with the most ardent and determined defenders of Islam. At least I don’t identify with either of these groups, and I beg you to tell me if this is a peculiar position: that I ought to be a real man and take a solid and unwavering position in favor of either.