Wafa Sultan = Ann Coulter?

Wafa Sultan is pilloried by an American rabbi in this LA Times column, in which he calls her "Islam's Ann Coulter", after hearing her at a pro-Israel Jewish conference. Incidentally, while Sultan can speak wherever she wants, I find it a bit weird that, when American Jews get together to support Israel, they want to hear someone attack Islam. It's a bit as if Israel Shahak (an equally controversial, but altogether more respectable figure than Sultan) was the keynote speaker at the Organization of the Islamic Conference. But the column asks the right question about Sultan's warped world-view:

The more Sultan talked, the more evident it became that progress in the Muslim world was not her interest. Even more troubling, it was not what the Jewish audience wanted to hear about. Applause, even cheers, interrupted her calumnies.


Judea Pearl, an attendee and father of murdered journalist Daniel Pearl, was one of the few voices of restraint and nuance heard that afternoon. In response to Sultan's assertion that the Koran contains only verses of evil and domination, Pearl said he understood the book also included "verses of peace" that proponents of Islam uphold as the religion's true intent. The Koran's verses on war and brutality, Pearl contended, were "cultural baggage," as are similar verses in the Torah. Unfortunately, his words were drowned out by the cheers for Sultan's full-court press against Islam and Muslims.

My disappointment in and disagreement with Sultan turned into dismay. She never alluded to any healthy, peaceful Islamic alternative. Why, for example, didn't this Southern California resident mention the groundbreaking efforts of the Islamic Center of Southern California, the leading exemplar of progressive Muslim American life in the United States? Why didn't she bring up the New Horizon School-Pasadena that the center started, the first Muslim American school honored by the U.S. Department of Education as a National Blue Ribbon School?

You might wonder why a rabbi is so uneasy about Sultan's assault on Muslims and Islam. Here's why: Contrary to practically every mosque in the U.S., the Islamic Center has a regulation in its charter barring funding from foreign countries. As a result, it is an American institution dedicated to propagating an American Muslim identity. Maher and Hassan Hathout are the philosophical and spiritual pillars of the mosque. They also have been partners of Wilshire Boulevard Temple rabbis and others throughout L.A. for decades.

The Hathouts' mosque has twice endorsed pilgrimages to Israel and the Palestinian territories, its members traveling with fellow L.A.-area Jews and Christians. It invites Jews to pray with them, to make music with them, to celebrate Ramadan with them. This is the mosque whose day school teaches students about Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Hanukkah alongside lessons in Arabic and the Koran. Recently, the Islamic Center joined the food pantry collective of Hope-Net, helping feed the hungry and homeless.

Make no mistake: I am not an Islamic apologist. But Sultan's over-the-top, indefensible remarks at the fundraiser, along with her failure to mention the important, continuing efforts of the Islamic Center, insulted all Muslims and Jews in L.A. and throughout the nation who are trying to bridge the cultural gap between the two groups. And that's one reason why I eventually walked out of the event.
It's worth reading the whole thing -- even if there are some rather dubious statements in the article -- which confirms that Sultan is a fully-blown CRAP (Courageous Reformist Arab Personality).
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.