Two books argue that repression, cruelty, and fear are central to Islam.
[The article below is reprinted from City Journal]
A God Who Hates: The Courageous Woman Who Inflamed the Muslim World Speaks Out Against the Evils of Islam, by Wafa Sultan (St. Martin’s, 256 pp., $24.99)
Cruel and Usual Punishment: The Terrifying Global Implications of Islamic Law, by Nonie Darwish (Thomas Nelson, 288 pp., $24.99)
As American citizens and officials engage in a muddled public debate about how to deal with indicted Fort Hood murderer Malik Hasan and his ilk, they would do well to consult these two books, which examine the Islamic system in practice. A God Who Hates explores the nature of Islam, viewed through Wafa Sultan’s personal experiences growing up in Syria, working there as a doctor, and then immigrating to the United States, where she became a psychiatrist. Cruel and Usual Punishment, published early last year, is the second book by Nonie Darwish, the daughter of an Egyptian officer killed by the Israelis in the 1950s. Her first, Now They Call Me Infidel, offered extensive autobiographical detail; the more recent book is an in-depth probe of what she sees as key problematic aspects of Islam.
Both Sultan and Darwish document how traditional Islamic law, or sharia, underpins Islamic life. Darwish argues that under Islam’s golden period of conquest and imperial rule, sharia’s most important aspect was “total control of the large and diverse Muslim empire—everyone’s behavior, loyalty, mind and even soul.” The system was all-encompassing and punishments were strict, but the caliphs, or rulers, were exempt from penalty for theft, adultery, killing, or drinking; in addition, they alone could have an unlimited number of wives. Their subjects were not allowed to revolt against them unless the caliphs acted in an “un-Islamic” way. Indeed, the fate of the learned imams who had written the sharia law demonstrated the extent of the caliphs’ immunity: they all wound up imprisoned, punished, exiled, or poisoned.
This system, Darwish writes, continues today in the tyrannical—and broadly accepted—behavior of most Muslim rulers. And the behavior cascades downward through Islamic society: those in positions of authority, whether in business or government, often act in repressive ways toward subordinates or the public at large. For many Islamic men, the home is the only place where they can assert their authority; yet even there, Darwish suggests, that authority is less than it seems. She analyzes the corrosive impact of polygamy, practiced or merely hypothetical, on all family members. She also notes its contribution to societal tension: since women do not greatly outnumber men, richer, older men acquire numerous wives at the expense of poorer young men. Caught between exclusion from a normal family life and brutal behavior in the public sphere, the best outlet for many young men is jihad: “The bottled-up sexual rage of the Muslim male,” Darwish argues, “must explode in the faces of the foreign infidel.” Jihad is thus essential for the maintenance of sharia law.
For her part, Sultan emphasizes the fear inherent in Islam, where the Koran’s 99 attributes of God include “The Harmer,” “The Compeller,” “The Imperious,” “The Humiliator,” and “The Bringer of Death.” She traces this to the dangerous environment of the Arabian desert, in which life was fragile and unpredictable, heightening people’s fear of the unknown. She also emphasizes the traditional Bedouin practice of raiding; Bedouins feared raids, yet relied on them for their own survival. Muslims today, too, are governed by the philosophy of raiding, she suggests. She describes an incident soon after she arrived in the United States, in which an Arab neighbor took her to the supermarket:
We went into a Vons market and, once there, she began to open every packet she could, then she began to make holes in the lids of cartons of milk, Jell-O, and cream. Then she made holes in a number of bags of potato chips, packets of paper handkerchiefs, and packets of spaghetti.
I shouted at her disapprovingly: “Dina, what are you doing?”
“May God curse them. They stole our land!”
“And are you doing this to try to get it back?”
“I’m trying to hurt them! You’re still new here. Don’t you know the owner’s Jewish?”
This hatred of Jews is not peripheral or dependent on Israel or Israeli behavior. Rather, it is deeply rooted in Islam, which divides the world into two parts, Muslim and non-Muslim. As Sultan recalls from her own childhood: “Jew must be one of the words Muslim children hear most frequently before the age of ten. It is also one of the hardest words they hear, as in their imagination it conjures up visions of killing, depravity, lies, and corruption. When one person wishes to express his disdain for another, he will call him a Jew.”
With some humor, Sultan describes how, early on, she bolted out of a shoe shop in Hollywood, one foot bare, upon discovering that the shop assistant was an Israeli Jew. ”We imbibed with our mother’s milk hatred for the Jews,” she writes, “and for anyone who supported their cause. We justified this hatred by devising a conspiracy theory, and we called anyone who disagreed with us a Zionist agent. This conspiracy theory helped keep Muslims inside the straitjacket in which Islam had imprisoned their minds.”
Darwish agrees. She quotes the Koranic verse, “O ye who believe! Take not the Jews and Christians for your friends and protectors: They are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them (for friendship) is of them.” She thinks Westerners who dismiss the influence of such passages on Islamic attitudes are deluding themselves: “Don’t even think for a second that the above verse does not cause a major divide between Muslims and non-Muslims. Those apologists who claim it has little effect on Muslim society are in denial and are unable to see Muslim society objectively.”
These various elements of control, fear, and separation dominate the role of women, particularly, in traditional Islam. Sultan recounts horrifying tales of rape, incest, and abuse that she uncovered while working as a doctor in Syria. Most searing are those of women convinced that, as they have been told all their lives, they are dirt. Such conviction, Sultan points out, comes straight out of Koranic verses and prophetic traditions, which stress that women are defective.
Darwish lays out the options available to Muslim women. They can reject sharia, whether secretly or openly; they can join in, becoming militant supporters of it; or they can live in denial. She herself spent many years in the third category, as she describes: “Women who follow the maze Islam has created for them will not be noticed and will be safe. On the other hand, if anyone deviates and is noticed, she will get no mercy from anyone. Other women in society—mothers, aunts, sisters, cousins—were among those who reinforced such attitudes.” Most Muslim women succumb to what Darwish terms a “worldwide Stockholm syndrome,” championing sharia for their own survival.
If the fundamental elements of traditional Islam are inimical to Western values of equality, freedom, and tolerance, what can be done to protect these values from Muslim immigrants who seek, like Malik Hasan, to destroy them?
For Sultan and Darwish, the basic problem is not the Hasans of this world, but the ideology that motivates them—an ideology fundamental to “traditional” or “moderate” Islam as much as to its “radical” variant, they believe. Darwish cites repeated examples of Islam’s reliance on vigilantism: Muslims who kill unbelievers, infidels, or non-Muslims are regularly absolved of their crimes, and the use of civilian enforcers is a constant feature of Islam. She argues that Muslim immigrants to the West need to understand that attacks on freedom of religion will not be tolerated, and that their goal should be assimilation into democratic society. She would have sharia declared an illegal, dangerous totalitarian ideology, in much the same way that the United States did decades ago with Communism. These steps would not stop the entry of Muslims intent on subverting the Western system, but they would put them on notice. Sultan, a Muslim who has become an atheist, states the problem even more baldly:
No one can be a true Muslim and a true American simultaneously. Islam is both a religion and a state, and to be a true Muslim you must believe in Islam as both religion and state. A true Muslim does not acknowledge the U.S. Constitution, and his willingness to live under that constitution is, as far as he is concerned, nothing more than an unavoidable step on the way to the constitution’s replacement by Islamic Sharia law.
These two books will no doubt prove highly unpalatable, if not unacceptable, for many Americans. Nevertheless, they should demand serious attention. Both authors are intelligent, courageous observers who know what they’re talking about, and who speak out at their own personal risk. The United States is, and will remain, a welcoming land for immigrants, and any Muslim like Wafa Sultan or Nonie Darwish who wishes to live here and share our values should be made welcome. Those who seek to bring down our system, however, should not. The hard part, of course, is figuring out how to distinguish between the two categories. But we won’t be able to solve that problem until we address it honestly.
Leslie S. Lebl, a former career foreign service officer with the State Department, is principal of Lebl Associates, a fellow of the American Center for Democracy, and author of the monograph Advancing U.S. Interests with the European Union.