Two Days Among Heroes
By: Phyllis Chesler, Ph.D. Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Recently, as I stood on the inevitable winding line at Kennedy Airport, shoes in hand, forced to yield up my bottle of water to airport security, I could not help but think: “Humiliation at the checkpoints indeed!”
Courtesy of jihadi terror, civilians at just about every airport in just about every country are forced to wait on long lines and submit both their bags and their bodies to physical and x-ray examinations. Of course, most of us understand that such surveillance ensures our survival.
While countless propagandists have demonized Israel for the “humiliation” of Palestinians (including would-be bombers, who are also forced to wait at checkpoints), I have never once heard any Western liberal academic or activist blame Al Qaeda or Richard Reid (the “shoe bomber”) for our considerable collective discomfort.
I always do.
This time, however, I would have waited on line for hours if necessary. I was on my way to a landmark conference of Muslim and ex-Muslim dissidents in St. Petersburg, Florida. The quietly efficient Austin Dacey, of the Center for Inquiry/Transnational, the eminent scholar Ibn Warraq, and the tireless Iranian activist Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi co-organized this event, which took place on March 4 and 5. Most speaker-delegates were staunch secularists; some were ardently or moderately religious; all believed in a separation of mosque and state; all were pro-Israel and pro-human and women’s rights.
Ironically, my views about Islamic gender and religious apartheid, Israel, and jihad, which have been excoriated by so many politically correct academics, found favor with these heroic and noble souls who honored me by having me chair the opening panel.
Delegates from Bangladesh, Egypt/Gaza, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Pakistan, Syria, and Uganda, most of them living in exile in the West, attended. One of the delegates was human rights activist Shariar Kabir, a gentle man with a beatific countenance who still lives in Bangladesh where he has been imprisoned many times. “It is my country and I will not desert her” is how he put it.
The major speakers included Egyptian-born author Nonie Darwish (They Call Me Infidel: Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel, and the War on Terror), now an American citizen and the founder of Arabs for Israel; Egyptian-born Dr. Tawfik Hamid, author of The Roots of Jihad, now living in hiding but once a colleague of bin Laden’s number two man, Ayman al-Zawahiri; Jordanian-born Dr. Shaker al-Nabulsi, who challenged the mullahs to issue a fatwa against bin Laden; Lebanese-American Dr. Walid Phares, author of Future Jihad: Terrorist Strategies Against the West; Pakistani-American Dr. Tashbih Sayyed, editor of Muslim World Today and Pakistan Today, who’s been at the forefront of the fight against Islamism and jihad; Wafa Sultan, the Syrian-American psychiatrist who recently rose to prominence when MEMRI translated her fiery and extraordinary debate in Arabic on Al Jazeera; and the soul of the conference, Pakistani-born Ibn Warraq (a nom de guerre), author of many books including Leaving Islam and What the Quran Really Says.
Two speakers were Arab Christians; thirteen had been born and raised as Muslims. Perhaps I was there to represent the Jews – and to speak as an American women’s rights activist who has written extensively about and condemned Islamic religious and gender apartheid.
These dissidents are truth-tellers, endangered in their homelands, living in exile, strangers in a strange land, so to speak. They have been empowered by their sojourns in the West.
In what way are they important to Israel and America? They certainly have no mass following or powerful constituency among other Muslims – at least not yet. But if the silent, hopefully moderate Muslims are ever going to listen to anyone other than the master propagandists who now brainwash and terrorize them, these brave, rational, tolerant, and awe-inspiring dissidents are their most likely role models and teachers.
The conference produced and signed a Declaration (it can be viewed at http://www.secularislam.org) that brands “Islamophobia” a false allegation; sees a “noble future for Islam as a personal faith, not a political doctrine”; and calls on governments of the world to “reject Sharia law…[and] oppose all penalties for blasphemy and apostasy, in accordance with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [and] eliminate practices such as female [genital mutilation], honor killing, forced veiling and forced marriage…[and] to reform sectarian education that teaches intolerance and bigotry towards non-Muslims…”
Among the initial 16 signatories was Mithal Al-Alusi, the Iraqi hero who, upon being elected to Parliament, chose to visit Israel – a crime for which jihadists killed his two sons and a bodyguard.
Not all Nazi-era Germans were Nazis themselves; some were peace-loving individuals who wanted to live safe lives and avoid death at Nazi hands. Ultimately, however, their failure to resist radical evil rendered them morally culpable as collaborators with that evil. In my view, the silent majority of Muslims are now on notice: they have a choice, there is another path to follow.
But make no mistake: Those Muslims who resist Islamist tyranny at home and fight for human and women’s rights are imprisoned, tortured, and executed. Dissidents are lucky if they can escape to the West. Those who do are to be commended for continuing the fight against Islamism while in their new countries.
It is important for the readers of The Jewish Press to know that nearly every speaker at the conference praised Israel and condemned the lethal propaganda against Jews, Israel, and America that is so pandemic in the Islamic world.
• Iranian exile and activist Manda Zand-Ervin had this to say: “I now believe in this statement by Golda Meir: ‘We will have peace only when the Arabs’ love for their children is stronger than their hate for the Jews.’ There is nothing worse than a society that kills its young.”
• In his book about jihad, Dr. Tawfik Hamid, the former Jammaa Islameia terrorist, systematically denounces the brainwashing into Jew- and Israel-hatred that characterizes the Islamic world. In The Roots of Jihad, Dr. Hamid contends that the “the more religious a person becomes in Islam, the more aggressive he/she becomes toward others.…Islamic groups who have studied their religion very deeply commit the highest percentage of terror acts in the world.”
• Irshad Manji, in her book The Trouble with Islam, describes Islam as “imperialist” and challenges both the Muslim and Western concept of Israel as “imperialist.” She also acknowledges that “hundreds of thousands of Jews found themselves kicked out of Arab lands by the 1950’s.” Unlike the Palestinians, they “did not languish in refugee holding tanks because Israel absorbed and integrated them…[and] 98,000 Palestinians. What have Arab governments done by and large for Palestinians?”
• Nonie Darwish, the daughter of a Palestinian shahid, reveals how she was taught to hate Israel and Jews in both Egypt and Gaza. In Infidel, she remembers how President Nasser “was obsessed with the elimination of Israel” and displaced his rage against European colonialists onto Israel. She recalls how the Arab media “twisted and repackaged their devastating defeat” in 1967 and how Israel was viewed as having “cheated” for daring to defend itself.
Darwish describes how every foreigner she met and befriended in Egypt or Gaza was viewed as “Zionist” or “CIA” or “Mossad.” When Israeli doctors took care of her relatives – all of whom hated Israel – she underwent a sea change. In her words: “I discovered the decency, beauty, and grace in Jewish culture.”
• Dr. Tashbish Sayeed visited Israel to try and understand Israelis’ “reluctance to do something about the bad press that continues to paint them as villains.” He found that “despite daily provocation” Israelis have not “descended to the level of depravity [of] their Arab enemies.” He states, “It is vital that Israel is supported, defended, and protected by all those who want the Muslims to progress as civilized people. I consider the rebirth of the Jewish state to be a blessing for Muslims.”
Dr. Sayeed concludes: “If the American civic faith has given the world a hope to be able to live with dignity, self respect and honor in peace, the Jewish traditions and culture of pluralism, debate, acceptance of dissension and difference of opinion have manifested themselves in the shape of the state of Israel to present the oppressed Muslim world with a paradigm to emulate. And if we want this world to be free of any kind of terror, we will have to defend this state of mind, whether it is seen in the shape of Israel or in the form of the United States of America.”
• On February 21, 2006, on Al Jazeera, Syrian-American psychiatrist Wafa Sultan had this to say: “The Jews have come from the tragedy (of the Holocaust) and forced the world to respect them, with their knowledge, not with their terror, with their work, not their crying and yelling. We have not seen a single Jew blow himself up in a German restaurant. We have not seen a single Jew destroy a church….We have not seen a single Jew protest by killing people. 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 what they can do for humankind before they demand that humankind respect them.”
• Finally, in his many books, the Renaissance scholar and chair of the Islamic Dissident Conference, Ibn Warraq, defends Jews, Israel, and the West. He describes the long history of the Muslim persecution of Jews, Christians, and other religious minorities, and challenges the so-called Golden Era as a myth. He writes: “Apologists of Islam…minimize, or even excuse the persecution, the discrimination, the forced conversions, the massacres, and the destruction of the churches, synagogues, fire temples, and other places of worship.…[They ignore or excuse] the appalling behavior of the Prophet toward the Jews; and [ignore] the intolerant, hostile, anti-Jewish and anti-Christian sentiments expressed in the Quran, which were the source of much intolerant, fanatical, and violent behavior toward all non-Muslims throughout the history of Islam.”
One of many examples of Jew-hatred he offers: “According to the Quran, Jews have an intense hatred of all true Muslims, and as a punishment for their sins, some of the Jews had, in the past, been changed into apes and swine…and others will have their hands tied to their necks and be cast into the fire on Judgment Day.”
Ibn Warraq predicts that “without critical examination of Islam, it will remain dogmatic, fanatical, and intolerant and will continue to stifle thoughts, human rights, individuality, originality, and truth.” At the conference he “demanded the rewriting of anti-American and anti-Jewish texts, particularly in Saudi Arabia and Egypt,” saying it was “scandalous that this has not been done.”
Though these brave dissidents may not yet have a movement behind them, their gathering was considered important (or dangerous) enough for Al Jazeera and Al-Arabiya to cover it. CNN’s Glenn Beck devoted a one-hour special to the conference, which was also covered by the Wall Street Journal, US News and World Report, The Weekly Standard and FrontPage Magazine.com.
Investor’s Business Daily noted that the Saudi- and Dubai-funded Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) sent “henchmen” to Florida to shout down the reformers. CAIR also posted at least four stories about the dissidents whom they condemned as playing into the hands of “Islamophobes” and as not being the “right messengers.”
Does CAIR think its representatives are more appropriate? CAIR spokesman Ahmed Bedier could not hold his own against Dr. Hamid, who challenged him to “denounce Saudi sharia law for “killing apostates, beating (and stoning) women.” Bedier feebly responded: “This is not about Saudi Arabia. We condemn any nation that misuses Islam, but we’re not going to condemn an entire nation.”
Investor’s Business Daily viewed the conference as a “ray of hope.” So do I. These dissidents are Israel’s and America’s natural allies. Now is the time for Western intellectuals who claim to be anti-racist and committed to human rights to stand with these dissidents.
The abject refusal by too many academics to judge between civilization and barbarism, and between enlightened rationalism and fanatic Islamic fundamentalism, endangers and condemns the victims of Islamic tyranny – people of diverse skin colors and ethnicities, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, and Buddhists.
The conference did not seem to be a “ray of hope” to left-wing activist Rabbi Arthur Waskow, who in a mass e-mailing actually suggested it was funded by the CIA. This is complete fabrication, of course. Waskow’s problem is this: Since none of the speakers blamed America or Israel for the considerable suffering in the Muslim and Arab world, that must prove the conference was a CIA conspiracy. This is insane.
Actually, left-wing groups like Rabbis for Human Rights should have been at this conference. They were absent in droves. Here were true heroes speaking out, not people who saw themselves as victims of American and Zionist foreign policy. But then, that’s exactly why the Left shunned the gathering.
Ibn Warraq has written a devastating and masterful work, to be published this summer, titled Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said’s ‘Orientalism. Will Western intellectuals also dare defend the West? I call upon my colleagues to divest from an ideology of Islamic gender and religious apartheid that has hijacked, Palestinianized, and colonized the Western moral imagination with dreadful and dangerous consequences.
Dr. Phyllis Chesler, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is the author of many works including the bestseller “Women and Madness” (1972), “The New Anti-Semitism” (2003) and “The Death of Feminism: What’s Next in the Struggle for Women’s Freedom” (2005). Her forthcoming book is titled “The Islamization of America.”
An Emerita professor of psychology and women’s studies and the co-founder of the Association for Women in Psychology and the National Women’s Health Network, she is on the board of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East and may be contacted through her website, http://www.phyllis-chesler.com.