Henrik Ræder Clausen of Europe News guest-reviews Wafa Sultan’s new book.
Wafa Sultan and the hateful god
by Henrik Ræder Clausen
Wafa Sultan is a Syrian-born psychiatrist who jumped to world fame on Al-Jazeera by talking freely about the stagnation and repression of women in the Islamic world, and not least by saying to her male opponent: “Shut up, it’s my turn!”
Her new book, A God Who Hates, is a deeply moving and partly autobiographical journey through a world where paranoia, conspiracies and repression of women are the order of the day, and where any chance for a life in dignity, as understood in the West, seems ruled out. The book is 240 pages long and easily read.
For the benefit of those who simply want a summary opinion, it is: five stars out of five — read it!
A God Who Hates provides the equivalent of a laboratory sample from the living conditions in the Arab world, Syria in particular. It is an intense account, which adds to the events an important understanding of Arab mentality, an understanding that politicians and others dealing with Arab countries and issues concerning Islam would do well to learn from.
Born into repression
Wafa Sultan was born a Muslim. Syria was, up through the 12th century, a Christian country, but today has an overwhelming Muslim majority. Islam is a religion that dictates in detail the behaviour of its adherents. This can be quite acceptable for those who dislike freedom and personal responsibility but is not beneficial for genuine respect and mutual confidence.
But Wafa Sultan is not a good Muslim, for she is honest. She relates in detail of the Arab mentality of blending something negative into everything, to express even positive events in negative terms, and how this mentality turns everything in daily life into struggle. Muslims scream and shout at each other, and have always done so.
She connects this behaviour to the desert origins of Islam, where resources were scarce and being raided a permanent risk. She does not consider it particularly surprising that Muhammad and the early Muslims lived from plundering their surroundings, but does consider it a significant problem that this robber mentality was codified into scripture and made a timeless example for Muslims.
The ogre on the mountain
A recurring metaphor is the ogre on the mountain, who keeps everyone below in a permanent state of fear. Everybody fears the ogre, and everybody keeps each other in adherence to the rules laid out by the ogre.
But if someone actually plucks up courage, climbs the mountain, and faces the ogre, it is all but impossible to find. It is larger at a distance and shrinks on approach, to the point of eventually nearly disappearing. The ogre depends on people to believe in it and fear it — without the belief and the fear it has no power in and of itself.
As the young, courageous man who climbs the mountain inquires (page 3):
– – – – – – – – –
“Who are you?” the young man asked.
“I am fear,” the ogre replied.
“Fear of what?” the young man asked.
“That depends on who you are. How each person sees me depends on how he imagines me. Some people fear illness, and they see me as disease. Others fear poverty, so they see me as poverty. Others fear authority, so they see authority in me. Some fear injustice, others fear wild beasts or storms, so that’s how I appear to them. He who fears water sees me as a torrent, he who fears war perceives me as an army, ammunition, and suchlike.”
“But why do they see you as bigger than you really are?”
“To each person I appear as big as his fear. And as long as they refuse to approach and confront me, they will never know my true size.”
Back in real life, this makes terrorists important. They impress thousands, millions, occasionally billions, through relatively simple operations targeting random individuals. For without fear, there can be no submission.
September 11th was a watershed day, the day where the West definitively was forced to take Islam seriously. About this, Wafa Sultan states (page 7):
After the 9/11 terrorist attack Americans asked themselves: “Why do they hate us?”
My answer is: “Because Muslims hate their women, and any group who hates their women can’t love anyone else.”
People ask: “But why do Muslims hate their women?”
And I can only reply: “Because their God does.”
The role of women in Islam
The recurrent theme of the book, also in the chapters that deal with other subjects, is that of women’s position in Islam. As Wafa Sultan states in the opening of chapter 6 (page 71):
FEAR, OF COURSE, extends in the Muslim world to the way men treat their women. It is, in many ways, the vilest and most hateful treatment the Muslim world visits on others.
In her function as an assistant at a gynaecological clinic in Aleppo, Wafa Sultan obtained a broad and direct impression of the situation for women in the Syrian society, documented with shocking repetitiveness: Violence, sexual abuse, fraud, infidelity and even drunkenness. The many real-world tragedies she has helped other women through speak for themselves, with the clear implication that there is no good reason to assume that the situation at the university clinic of Aleppo is unusual.
Wafa Sultan knows from her own experience the Islamic milieu, the situation of women and the attitudes of men, and that permeates the tale. The book is no academic dissertation, but rather a very practical account of personal experience from a woman whose life for over three decades was little different from that of other Syrians, combined with an evaluation of the causes of the problems from the point of view of a psychiatrist.
This down-to-earth approach is scary, for the obvious implication is that millions and millions of Arabs and other Muslims suffer circumstances equally humiliating, or even worse. What is particularly painful is the role of women in aiding and abetting this vicious circle of repression. When a women has not been permitted to live freely herself, it is dead easy for her to let her frustration emerge to the harm of others — daughters, sisters-in-law, nieces — so that they will also be scared of standing firm on their own rights, not to mention rebelling against the tradition of repression.
The situation of the women is similar to what Ludwig von Mises wrote in his 1925 book Socialism, about the state of affairs in barbaric societies:
Where the principle of violence dominates, polygamy is universal. Each man has as many wives as he can defend. Wives are a form of property, of which it is always better to have more than few. A man endeavours to own more wives, just as he endeavours to own more slaves or cows; his moral attitude is the same, in fact, for slaves, cows, and wives. He demands fidelity from his wife; he alone may dispose of her labour and her body, himself remaining free of any ties whatever.
That Wafa Sultan managed to escape this trap is due to two fortunate events: First, she loved to read and to write, and thus discovered that alternative modes of existence can be found. Second, she met and married a man of her own choosing and free will, someone who supported her and respected her as an individual. This rare gift also brought about the luck to emigrate to the United States of America, where they finally were able to experience a truly free society themselves.
The image of God in Islam
The concept of God in Islam is elaborated on extensively. Islam arose in a desert world of scarce natural resources, where being on guard was a perpetual necessity to stay alive. Raids were the order of the day, an activity in which Muhammad and the early Muslims excelled. That is not a problem in itself — what matters today is that the entire mentality, right down to sharing of spoils, women and slaves — was codified in the Quran and the Hadith, and that Muhammad is still considered an example of ideal conduct for faithful Muslims (Quran 33:21).
Still, if it weren’t for one specific factor, all of this would be ridiculously irrelevant. That factor is fear. Fear of the neighbours condemning un-Islamic behaviour, fear of the mother-in-law who calls other women in the family ‘whores’ if they do not veil themselves. Fear of eviction, fear of men who consider sexual abuse a right, not a problem. All of these fears ultimately traceable back to the ogre on the mountain, whom nobody ever confronts.
Prejudice and reality
Now, it did work out for Wafa Sultan and her husband Morad to escape Syria and emigrate to the USA. Being a doctor by education, it was a struggle to start from scratch and work at a gas station, but that was a good opportunity to learn the language and meet a wide variety of Americans.
And this had a surprise in store for Wafa: Americans are friendly to each other.
From the very beginning landing at L.A. Airport through a variety of offices, and not least at her local school, a wide variety of complete strangers treated her in a friendly and sensible manner. A sharp contrast to what she had been taught at school about immoral and decadent Americans.
There was a distinct piece of paranoia that it took a while for her to dismantle, the hatred of Jews. As in other Arab countries, the school had taught her that Jews are intrinsically evil, and it took quite a while for her to discover this to be plain wrong. It is hard to imagine a well-educated modern woman running screaming from a shoe store, merely because the shop owner turned out to be a Israeli Jew. Such is the power of childhood indoctrination.
“Who is that woman on Al-Jazeera?”
Apart from learning English and gaining the license to practice medicine, Wafa Sultan also found a new channel of expression, writing to newspapers and magazines about Islam, the role of women and the advantages of a free society. One article was followed by another, and after a while she had turned into a known critic of Islam and the human rights situation in Islamic countries.
This brought her an invitation from Al-Jazeera, seemingly with the hidden intention of putting her back in a role suitable for women, that she would return home in shame and cease to be so openly critical. The famous result has been viewed by millions on YouTube (video 1, video 2).
Inviting her to speak directly to the Arab world constituted a strategic failure. Rather than respectfully waddling between yes and no, for and against, she spoke the truth about repression of women in Islamic countries, about Islam and terrorism, and put the responsibility for the problems squarely on Islam as such — completely void of the typical Arab duality that had been expected of her. She even had the audacity to stick to the rules for speaking times and her share, in spite of her opponent in the debate being a man. That really shook up people throughout the Arab world. But the problem for those upset by her style was actually quite simple:
Wafa Sultan was fed up and had become fearless.
Islam: A sealed flask
Being a psychiatrist, Wafa Sultan has a word or three to say about the psychological impact of Islam, and she certainly pulls no punches. Reading the chapters on Islam is like reading Geert Wilders, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, etc. on steroids — and Wafa Sultan speaks of her own people, the Arabs, and her own religion, Islam. At times conclusions and value judgements are packed rather closely, but the material is important, and the book quickly proceeds to new fields of interest.
She speaks on the plain backwardness of Islam as compared to the West, where logic, rationality and science are recognized, where each man is considered an individual with inalienable rights. She explains the power structure of Islam, where every person, one way or another, is either slave or master, from the simplest persons in the streets up to the highest imams and muftis, who still consider themselves ‘slaves of Allah’, but in turn use the scriptures of Islam to gain mastery over others. And she states straight out on our “War on Terror” (page 184):
War on terrorism is pointless unless the world works together to replace this life-disdaining culture that incites people to sacrifice their lives with a more humane and reasonable alternative.
Interestingly, she apparently still considers herself a Muslim. She was born and raised in a Muslim society, and believes that she will never rid herself completely of the imprints that has left in her. But she hopes that her children will grow up as non-Muslims. With a courageous mother like this, they should have every possible chance.
The clash of civilizations and personal responsibility
Wafa Sultan ends her book with a reference to the Huntington classic “The Clash of Civilizations”. For her, it was shocking, yet not surprising, that 19 young Arabs decided to sacrifice themselves, four airplanes and the lives of almost 3,000 random people to their God. It was mainly a question of where and when, for something was bound to happen.
The core difference here is that of personal responsibility.
Arabs — and Muslims at large — systematically shift responsibility elsewhere. That can be onto women, Jews, Americans, or their God — and that mentality is concisely encapsulated in the tiny word inshallah, ‘If Allah wills it’. This fatalism makes it difficult to enter into binding agreements, for there is a scarcity of responsible individuals with which to enter them. There simply is a scarcity of individuals who personally will stand by the wording and loyal execution of an agreement; there are precious few who dare to stand up and declare themselves to be independent, free persons.
But Wafa Sultan dares. She is sincerely offended by the miserable state of affairs in the Islamic world, and the endless responsibility-shifting, which now turns problems from the Islamic world into problems for the West, whereas it would seem sensible to solve the problems at their origin. Immigration and expansion of Islam into the West have now turned Islamic problems into problems of the West, but a full nine years after 9/11, most of our politicians still appear to not comprehend the nature nor the depth of the problems.
Thus, politicians, media persons, and others who in any way deal with Islam should read this book