To judge by her appearances on al Jazeera, Los Angeles psychologist Wafa Sultan is the very definition of fearlessness. Face-to-face with radical Islamists before millions of potentially hostile viewers around the Arab world, Ms. Sultan — a secular Arab American fluent in Arabic — does not flinch when called a heretic and a blasphemer. For all we know, she is endangering her life.
Her latest appearance took place Feb. 21, when Ms. Sultan engaged the Egyptian cleric Ibrahim Al-Khouli in a live debate about the “clash of civilizations” on the talk show “The Other Direction” on al Jazeera TV. The transcript and subtitled video are available in English (www.memri.org). “The clash we are witnessing around the world is not a clash of religions, or a clash of civilizations,” she said. “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 … What we see today is not a clash of civilizations.”
Turning to her Egyptian interlocutor Mr. Al-Khouli, she asks, “What gives you the right to call [Christians] ‘those who incur Allah’s wrath,’ or ‘those who have gone astray,’ and then come here and say that your religion commands you to refrain from offending the beliefs of others?” Mr. Al-Khouli had previously compared Christians to apes and pigs. “I am not a Christian, a Muslim or a Jew. I am a secular human being. I do not believe in the supernatural, but I respect others’ right to believe in it.”
“Are you a heretic?” Mr. Al-Khouli asks.
“You can say whatever you like. I am a secular human being who does not believe in the supernatural,” she responds.
“If you are a heretic, there is no point in rebuking you, since you have blasphemed against Islam, the prophet and the Koran.”
“These are personal matters that do not concern you,” she says. “Brother, you can believe in stones, as long as you don’t throw them at me. You are free to worship whoever you want, but other people’s beliefs are not your concern … Let people have their beliefs.”
She then issues an even greater provocation. “We have not seen a single Jew blow himself up in a German restaurant. We have not seen a single Jew destroy a church … 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.”
This isn’t the first time Ms. Sultan has engaged radical Islamists: In July MEMRI translated her al Jazeera face-off with the Algerian Islamist Ahmad Bin Muhammad on the subject of Palestinian suicide bombers. Ms. Sultan “absolutely puts herself at risk” by appearing on this program, a MEMRI staffer told The Washington Times. Which seems about right: Her remarks are as or more provocative as Salman Rushdie’s.