Wafa Sultan: Clash of Civilizations?
For anyone who hasn't been paying attention to the clash of civilizations lately, you might want to read what Wafa Sultan has to say about this and other things in transcripts posted at the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), or click on the links there to hear the original Arabic (with English subtitles).
Here's a passage from an interview with Wafa Sultan that was broadcast on Al-Jazeera TV about three weeks ago, on February 21, 2006:
"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 ... [rationality and barbarity]. 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."Wafa Sultan's original words here were in Arabic, so I don't know if she's accusing the Muslim world of lacking a genuine civilization or of being stuck in a medieval one. If the former, then she's arguing that there is no clash of civilizations because the Muslim world lacks one. If the latter, then she's arguing that there is no clash of civilizations because the Muslim world shares a common civilization with the West (or all of humanity) but is retrogressive.
Either way, hers is a sharp polemic -- and that's her main intention.
Later in the interview, she implicitly accepts a framing of the issue in terms of the "clash of civilizations." First, the Al-Jazeera host insists on the expression:
"Who came up with the concept of a clash of civilizations? Was it not Samuel Huntington? It was not bin Laden. I would like to discuss this issue, if you don't mind..."Actually, it wasn't Huntington, though he has used the concept, initially for an essay in Foreign Affairs (Summer 1993) and later in his famous book. The scholar who first used the expression was Bernard Lewis, in his Atlantic Monthly essay, "The Roots of Muslim Rage" (September 1990, Volume 266, No. 3, 47-60), and Huntington explicitly cites him.
Wafa Sultan, at any rate, locates the responsibility for the clash of civilizations rather earlier:
"The Muslims are the ones who began using this expression. The Muslims are the ones who began the clash of civilizations. The Prophet of Islam said: 'I was ordered to fight the people until they believe in Allah and His Messenger.' When the Muslims divided the people into Muslims and non-Muslims, and called to fight the others until they believe in what they themselves believe, they started this clash, and began this war. In order to start this war, they must reexamine their Islamic books and curricula, which are full of calls for takfir and fighting the infidels."Sultan is thinking of the Muslim distinction between the Dar al-Islam (Realm of Islam) and the Dar al-Harb (Realm of War), which assumes a state of conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims, but she doesn't use these expressions here because she's tracing the concept back to Muhammad himself, who didn't explicitly use the expressions but whose message contained a similar distinction, as Sultan notes.
For her outspoken words, Sultan has been condemned as a heretic by various Muslim authorities. In a radio interview for Israel National News, however, she says that most of the letters that she receives from Muslims are very supportive of her and that her opinions are not rare among Muslims but that many fear to express themselves openly.
Let's hope that she's right and that her words will galvanize others.