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The article that won Cinnamon Stillwell her first death threat. 

 

Today's True Feminists

Cinnamon Stillwell

2006/03/27

As we marked another International Women's Day this month, commemorations took place around the world. In the West, the feminist movement held its own events to honor the occasion.

Here in San Francisco , a group called the Radical Women honored International Women's Day with a March 11 "Tribute to Sister Resisters." These included a "playwright, actor, and model for 'Women en Large: Images of Fat Nudes,'" an "abortion advocate," a "labor and anti-war feminist poet" and a "retired socialist feminist educator and revolutionary writer." In other words, the same old tired '60s model ad nauseam.

Meanwhile, the real radical women in the world go largely unremarked by the feminist movement. Today's true heroines are those who do battle with the gender apartheid, violence and oppression practiced against women in the Muslim world. There, women face not just phantom infringements to their civil rights and perceived slights to their sensitivities, but threats to their lives. With the call for reform in the Muslim world come the inevitable requirements of round-the-clock security.

Arab American psychiatrist Dr. Wafa Sultan is the latest to enter such dangerous waters.

Ever since Sultan took part in a debate on Al-Jazeera with Algerian Islamist cleric Ahmad bin Muhammad in February, the world has been riveted.

The two debated Islamic teachings and terrorism. But instead of the usual excuses, Sultan offered moral clarity. She blasted the Muslim world for being mired in a "medieval" mentality and she dubbed the war on terror not simply a clash of civilizations but "a clash between civilization and backwardness between barbarity and rationality between human rights on the one hand and the violation of these rights on the other, between those who treat women like beasts and those who treat them like human beings."

Debate a Hit on Web

Sultan exhorted fellow Muslims to reject this mind-set and join modernity. She also urged Muslims to free themselves from the shackles of anti-Semitism. Perhaps most stunningly, she compared the behavior of Jews and Muslims in the face of oppression. She said, "The Jews have come from tragedy and forced the world to respect them with their knowledge, not with their terror."

Thanks to the Middle East Media Research Institute, which makes Arab media available for a wider audience at its Web site MEMRI.org, the Al-Jazeera debate received over 3 million hits. Sultan went on to do an interview with Rabbi Tovia Singer on Israel National Radio and eventually became the subject of extensive media attention, including from CNN and the New York Times. Her frank appraisal of the problems in Islam has had a huge impact on audiences starving for such voices of sanity.

But along with the acclaim have come numerous death threats and the need for additional security. Sultan was denounced as a "heretic" by the cleric with whom she debated on Al-Jazeera, and he later dubbed her "more dangerous to Islam than the Danish cartoons," thereby unwittingly providing a glimpse into the very mind-set Sultan criticized.

Unfortunately, the New York Times article did not help matters by tipping off Sultan's potential enemies to the Los Angeles suburb in which she and her husband reside, as well as other personal information. A blog called Neocon Express has since started a campaign to get a number of private security firms to donate equipment and services for Sultan's protection.

Religious Beliefs Re-Examined

Born in Syria to a middle-class family and raised a Muslim, Wafa Sultan began to reexamine her religious beliefs after a traumatic incident. A respected medical school professor was murdered before her eyes by two Muslim Brotherhood members shouting "Allahu akbar!" (God is great!). Eventually, she became a secularist and started writing for the Arab American Web site Anneqed.com.  She became a strong critic of the intolerance and violence increasingly associated with the Muslim world. She also tackled the taboo subject of Muslim anti-Semitism, rejecting the hatred with which she had been indoctrinated as a child.

Sultan is now working on a book that she says "is going to turn the Islamic world upside down." Indeed, such upheaval is needed now more than ever. If one woman can have such a great impact, think what hundreds, thousands or even millions could do.

But Wafa Sultan is by no means the first Arab woman to tackle Islamic intolerance. Lebanese Christian journalist Brigitte Gabriel has traveled the world sharing her experiences of persecution at the hands of Islamists in Lebanon . She and her family eventually found refuge in Israel , where she underwent an epiphany and, like Wafa Sultan, rejected the anti-Semitism she had grown up with.

Gabriel has since become a staunch defender of Israel on American college campuses and a powerful voice for restoring Arab-Jewish relations. Now living in the United States , Gabriel founded the American Congress for Truth, an organization devoted to providing information about the Middle East conflict and the dangers of "Islamic totalitarianism." 

Nonie Darwish is another Arab woman who has sought to bridge the gap with Israel as well as defend America 's battle against Islamic terrorism. A former Muslim born and raised in Cairo and the Gaza Strip who later converted to Christianity, Darwish has lived in the United States for more than 25 years. In addition to writing articles and speaking in public, Darwish set up the Web site ArabsforIsrael.com

Darwish routinely calls upon her own background to tackle the problems associated with the Muslim world. As she put it in a recent article, "Hundreds of millions of other Muslims also have been raised with the same hatred of the West and Israel as a way to distract from the failings of their leaders."

Irshad Manji is also a woman worth recognizing. A refugee of Pakistani descent from Uganda , Muslim journalist and activist Manji grew up in Vancouver , British Columbia . She went on to pursue an impressive career, which now includes being a visiting fellow with the International Security Studies program at Yale University .

 

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