On Tuesday 20 October 2009 I received an unsolicited email pointing me towards a video clip in which an Islamic American lady named WAFA SULTAN takes on the Islamic world – full frontal so to speak — through Al Jazeera network. In doing so I included the email introduction which was part of the unsolicited message (see below).

A good friend, young and of sharp intellect, has indicated to me and others in our special cluster, that I have contributed to extremism by implicitly praising a form or reprehensible right-wing ideology with its own partialities, etc etc. SO, a process of re-education has been initiated for those on the fringes of certain debates. This is precisely what SACRIFICAL DEVOTION, VIRULENT POLITICS is about – note the second part of the title!!

Hence I enter the lively exchange initiated within our restricted circle within this open site so that others can join in. I thank Ajit for opening the subject up and others who joined in,

MICHAEL ROBERTS, in Adelaide, 21Oct. 09

An exraordinarily brave woman. Watch this quickly before it is taken off the WEBThis is amazing. WATCH THIS, BEFORE IT’S TAKEN OFF THE WEB
http://switch3.castup.net/cunet/gm.asp?ai=214&ar=1050wmv&ak =
It is extremely surprising that the Arab financed TV station in Dubai would allow this to air. Be sure and watch this, it is so powerful I have no doubt she now has a very large price on her head. I also have no doubt it won’t be on the net very long.
She is one impressive woman.
Here is a powerful and amazing statement on Al Jazeera television. The woman is Wafa Sultan, an Arab-American psychologist from Los Angeles . I would suggest watching it ASAP because I don’t know how long the link will be active. This film clip should be shown around the world repeatedly!

AJIT CHITTAMBALAM Oct 20, 2009 at 8:39 PM

Dear Dr. Roberts,

I wonder if you email account has been hacked again, or if indeed you had intended to send out this link to this email group that you have kindly reconstituted, and with which you share many valuable links – and let me thank you for them. Your work continues to be very influential and provoking, and I look forward to reading more.

Just a brief however, to say in response – in case you do wish for this video clip to be circulate – Wafa Sultan’s clip has been widely circulated before, and I find it reprehensible in every way. Not only is her message saturated with racism and a portrayal of Islam that does not disguise its contempt, but it is factually untenable, and intellectually flimsy. Consider, for example, her ludicrous assertion in 4:43 of the clip “we have not seen a single Jew protest by killing people.” This comment, and many such others that she makes, betray – apart from an absurd effacement of history – a fawning acceptance of American and Israeli rhetoric.

But I am even more puzzled at your introduction of this message, and the endorsement that it is a rare or threatened on the web. In fact, it is not – it is freely available on Youtube. Second, and more troubling, is your claim that she is “brave” or “powerful.” First, she was speaking in the US – not in the Middle East. Second, her power or bravery comes from a parroting a view that is disseminated by the most vociferous right-wing American and Israeli groups – even the most critical Israeli scholars would disagree with her. And her belligerence is the same belligerence as, say, Fox news, (and ironically, the same belligerence that she accuses “Muslims” of having) and so I certainly do not think that there is anything that we need to celebrate in Sultan’s so-called “bravery.” In fact, we should acknowledge how commonplace and vulgar her views are.

However, this argument against her, has been made before, and the larger arguments that she makes (for example, a zealous faith in reason, secularism and modernity) have been shown to be simply untenable by scholars such as Edward Said and Talal Asad. And, as these scholars show, more to the point, that adopting a critical stance towards her does not mean one supports the Taliban, for example. In fact, I would wonder if your own work does not, in a Sri Lankan context, strive to undo the kinds of things she says.

What I do want to draw attention to here, however, is to say in response, in this (semi)public forum, that I will certainly not be circulating this video, at least not with any triumphalist tenor; rather, I might attempt to do so with an acknowledgment of how racist, imperialist and xenophobic her views are. But, one only has to turn on the news here in the US to see just how unexceptional and hawkish her views are.

And in that sense, your endorsement of her views and the sense of urgency with which you ask us to consider it are a re-iteration of those hawkish and insular views; I wonder how comfortable you would be, then, in affixing your signature to this video clip.

With profound respect and best wishes,

SWATI PARASHAR Tue, Oct 20, 2009 at 9:44 PM

Dear Ajit

I read your response with interest and feel sufficiently provoked to express my views here. To me what is striking is how easily you dismiss her views, without locating it or even bothering to engage with her politics. I would not be surprised if you had similar views about Tasleema Nasreen, Ayan Hirsi Ali or such like. Your so called critical stance does not make you tolerant towards this kind of criticism of a faith thats coming from people who may have more experiences of the kind they speak about than you or me.

We have moved much beyond Talal and Said and much beyond teh political correctness you seem to espouse. Its not just about these women, who incidently happen to be Muslims, but about several brave others who critique their own regious and cultural experiences. I know of several Hindus, Buddhists and Christians who do that and face enough flak for the same. I do not see why you think its less courageous for her to speak in America than in teh middle east. To me its not teh location, but what she speaks that is imp. incidently thats also a very narrow view of America where such expressions would not make her life any more comfortable.

It is interesting that you feel the need to dismiss her views as racist and intellectually flimsy, denying her the right to her experiences and her politics. Moreover, you feel the need to protect communities ( whatever here you imagine she is spekaing against), over individuals right to speak up against their experiences. I am hoping your critique is not just targetted at women, who show exceptional courage to speka against the norm and knowing fully well the consequences of their actions. i am sure you are familiar of Hirsi Ali’s and Tasleema’s experiences.

Incidently, what she is spekaing against is a religion that she was born into and the way she has interpreted/experienced it. I do not see what crime that maybe, given that most religions do include racist and mysoginist concepts that have evolved through years of practices that are based on exclusion and violence. As I said she incidently is a Muslim. I am assuming you would have similar opinion of others who express deep anguish and rage at belonging to groups nad communities where their individual rights are non existent. Nothing is infallible and beyond questioning. Not religions of all kinds who treat women like beasts than anything else. I feel the need to reiterate that practices within Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism, Sikhism, Judaism, have all extended similar treatment to women and thsoe perceived as ‘others’. The least we can offer as intellectual space is for individuals to express themselves.

There is far more to her politics than racism, imperialism and hawkishness that you attribute to her. There are some people in the world who have shown exceptional courage in speaking up against what they perceive as injustices nad unfair treatment. I wonder who we try to please by rejecting such individual expressions. It is only unfortunate that her views are appropriated by the ‘right wing’, but that still does not mean that her views dont matter at all.

It is time we dropped all guards and understood the need to critique communities and groups and their politics. It doenst do any good to parrot ‘religions’ mean well…..we should jolly well acknowldge that militants, racists and rioteers have all emrged from within religious discourses and they locate their politics within religion.

I am disppointed by your reaction. In nay case, I am sure people have seen this video before it was sent on this email list (intentionally or unintentionally)…There is a need to debate certain uncomfortable issues instead of seeking refuge in the likes of Said and Talal. there is a need to look beyond ideologies as fortresses that need to be defended. There is need to realise that people matter more than the discourse.

best wishes


BODHI DHANAPALA Wed, Oct 21, 2009 at 1:33 AM

You say: “I know of several Hindus, Buddhists and Christians who do that and face enough flak for the same.”
Could you give some details of Buddhists and substantiate your claim.

SWATI PARASHAR Wed, Oct 21, 2009 at 1:45 AM

for Bodhi D’pala
So is the debate only about proving a point? then maybe u could look around yourself….

How many Hindus have spoken against the caste atrocities, against radical/militant Hindu politics…?

Likewise, there are enough Sri Lankan Buddhists, who have expressed grave concerns on the way the Tamil community has been treated by the state and are opposed to the religious nationalism that the state has propounded, that has often excluded minorities.

Christians have done likewise against the Church dictats which restrict freedom of individuals esp women.

The critical discourse has always been part of any religion….and those speaking have never had it easy esp women….

AJIT CHITTAMBALAM Wed, Oct 21, 2009 at 1:45
Dear Swati,
Thank you for your response; I have responded publicly on this forum once again, and I ask anyone not interested in this exchange to excuse this flurry of emails.
Swati, I am in disagreement in almost everything you say; not simply your political stances, but your theoretical claims as well – assuming that we can separate ‘politics’ from ‘theory.’ But I will somewhat artificially separate the two because I hope to pose a question that may leave this debate open, – and if people would like to comment, I invite them to do so, on this list serve or to please contact me to form a different email group.
So I will respond to one drift in your thought. You say, “Your so called critical stance does not make you tolerant towards this kind of criticism of a faith that’s coming from people who may have more experiences of the kind they speak about than you or me.”
One of the clear drifts of your response, I think, is to pose the question of people or discourses ( a distinction that I do not draw here), and to suggest that people’s experiences give them a right to speak (out) against certain violence. But I very much disagree that personal biography authorizes someone to speak in a way that indemnifies their positions, nor that they have a privileged viewpoint to their politics. Not that I want to suggest that certain authors have not experienced unimaginable atrocity, but that experience does not automatically produce a politics that we should espouse. In fact, is not you who psychologizes Sultan’s position by claiming that her experience authorizes her to have a certain kind of politics? But how is that different from, let’s say, and Israeli position that suggests that “their experience” of the Holocaust authorizes them to have certain views, or that the American experience of 9/11, allows them to practice all kinds of violence in the name of that event? I do not want to deny that these events occurred, but we must certainly guard against the fact that the myriad political positions that flow from them should all have equal merit, or are all equally valid. In fact, if politics automatically flowed from experience, we could not begin the questioning of everything that you call for. If we must “engage with her politics” as you say, then we must in some way refuse to psychologize or biographize Sultan’s position and consider her ability and choice to mediate her struggle against fundamentalist Islam in a number of ways.
You also note that: “we should jolly well acknowldge that militants, racists and rioteers have all emerged from within religious discourses and they locate their politics within religion.”
I completely agree with this statement, but I would extend it to Sultan herself: militants, racists and rioters have emerged claiming their “experiences” or “victimhood” as legitimation for the politics they espouse. And I certainly do not claim to defend religion or prevent the critique of communities and groups and I did not express this view. I despise the abhorrent treatment of women in certain Islamic regimes, but it seems that Sultan’s view offers very little in a critique or position that would promote a more inclusive politics.
I have many other disagreements with your position, and I invite you to continue this discussion by writing to my email directly if you choose. At least let me note that, Sultan’s views such as “we have not seen a single Jew protest by killing people” are inexcusable and unjustifiable, at least not by an appeal to either a standard of intellectual rigor or a progressive or inclusive politics. And my intention to respond to Dr. Roberts’ email was to draw attention to this fact.
Thanks for your time and best wishes,

JEFFREY BALE Wed, Oct 21, 2009 at 3:15 AM

I completely agree with your views, Swati.

BTW, Wafa Sultan periodically appears on al-Jazira, a news network that systematically peddles Arab nationalist and Islamist propaganda are adopts a virulently anti-Western stance, to challenge Islamist spokesmen. In the process, of course, she is subjected to incredible amounts of religious, political, and gender abuse. I would say that makes her courageous, though not as much so as Hirsan Ali, who had to have bodyguards assigned to protect her, merely for stating the obvious. The Islamist response to any criticism of Islam, no matter how legitimate, is to threaten to kill the critic, as one can document in numerous contexts. The fact that so many intellectuals not only try to appease them by advocating levels of “sensitivity” that are not granted to anyone else, especially in Western societies where all oxen are gored and everything sacred is (and should be) satirized, is itself the real scandal.

As for those who continue to worship that dishonest propagandist Said and his ilk, peddle other types of mindless political correctness, and slander everyone who disagrees with them as “imperialists” or “Islamophobes,” who really cares what they think about anything? The apologists for Islamism, like the apologists for communism and fascism, will eventually be consigned to the dustbin of intellectual history. The sooner, the better. What we need is more George Orwells, not more Andre Gides.

AJIT CHITTAMBALAM Wed, Oct 21, 2009 at 4:45 AM
My last response:
It never ceases to amaze me how much ire scholars like Said and Asad (let us not talk about the likes of people like Foucault and Derrida!) evoke amongst the most gentle people; and I must assume that Jeffrey Bale is a kind and gentle soul, since he has evoked the most velvet passive-aggressive tones and allusions to belittle my comments. And since we are all here for a bit of fun, let me retort!
Let’s assume that Jeffrey Bale’s (I will refer to his proper name since I lack the tact he shows) comments have some merit; a far-fetched notion as that is. (Among the gems in his little email is his claim that Hirsan Ali is “more courageous” than Sultan simply because she needed bodyguards.) It is alarming, how the structure of his critiques and jabs parallel Wafa Sultan’s! I am a worshipper (of Said), in a religion which can be dismissed wholesale (“mindless political correctness”) as a backward, anti-modern ideology that goes against the grain of history (“consigned to the dustbin of intellectual history”). And he suggests, about the views of my fellow horde of zealots, “Who really cares what they think about anything?” What a lovely way of summing up American and Israel foreign policy attitudes towards the middle east over the last half century! Jeffrey Bale has certainly watched the video clip, I see, and is practicing Wafa Sultan-lite!
But since Jeffery Bale has made no reference to the two emails I shared (which claim no great merit on its own, they are quick dispatches) and showed no attempt to read, cite, argue, reason with anything like good faith with the people with who he is in dialogue (this email group in general, myself in particular – and for my disagreements with Swati, I thank her for the generosity she shows), I scarcely can believe that he has bothered to read “Said and his ilk” with any “sensitivity.” In fact, none of what he attributes to me is accurate. And though I am certainly not a huge fan of Said, I acknowledge the weight of his work (I am a bigger fan of Frenchies like Foucault and Derrida, and I say this to allow Jeffrey Bale to have a finer impression of me than he already does). Dear Jeffrey, did you know that Said in fact wrote quite a bit on both George Orwell and Andre Gide?
But since Jeffrey does not really care what my ilk thinks, I am afraid that I will loiter in the refuse of history. From here, we will all look up and forward to more to come from Jeffrey Bale. But I hope to find some comfort in the others I might find in the dustbin, for example Walter Benjamin, who often invoked that image to invoke the pathos of the wreckage of civilization (Edward Said and his ilk have written on this as well), and Jeffrey Bale may well want to look up this reference to note the profound irony that marks every comment of his own email.
from the Dustbin,
P.S. I will now refrain from further responses

GAUTAM GHOSH Wed, Oct 21, 2009 at 9:27 AM

Hello All,

I am interested and invested in these debates. However I could not view this particular clip, either via the email below or by searching on youtube. Anyone else have this problem — and solve it?

From my — admittedly hasty — review of the debate thus far, and some basic info I’ve found on the Internet, my impression is her perspective is more problematic than promising. And the apparent approval she has garnered from people like David Horowitz and Glenn Beck doesn’t bode well.

But, again, I haven’t seen the clip and will appreciate being pointed to it.

Best wishes,


RIAZ HASSAN Wed. 21 Oct morning

Dear Michael,

Wafa Sultan is a vocal Syrian/American critic of Islam and you can find all her statements on the internet including the video you have circulated. She presents a personal view of Islam, Islamic world, Muslims and what is wrong with them. Sultan speaks for herself (and does so passionately) and those who share her views but not for all Muslims and even non Muslims as reflected in the ensuing exchanges following your postings of her video clip. I hope that for those who want to critique Islam, Islamism, Islamic regimes would, Muslims would consider going beyond applauding and identifying with criticisms of Ali, Tasleema and Sultan. There are a whole range of sources, critiques and commentaries which are easily accessible. I hope that in our haste to we don’t dump works of people like Said and Asad. The easy starting point for those interested will be the 2003 two part essay entitled “/Which Way to Mecca/’ by the late Clifford Geertz in the /New York Review of Books/, and then there are feminist NGOs like the/ Sharkat Gah/ in Lahore and scholars associated with them, books by Khaled Abou al Fadl (particularly ‘/Speaking in God’s Name’/ for gender issues and Islamic regimes), Hanifa Deen’s ‘/The Crescent and the Pen/’ on Taslema Nasreen and even my book /Inside Muslim Minds.


MICHAEL ROBERTS Wednesday morning, 21 Oct.Adelaide

The cross-reference to the WAFA SULTAN clip arrived unsolicited on Tuesday evening on via Lankan circuit with the “Preamble” penned by a Sri Lankan whom I did not know. I used ‘scissors and paste’ and sent the message on to our sacrificial devotion cluster.

I had never heard of Wafa Sultan or seen the clip before – which just goes to show that many in Australia and in Sri Lanka are not at the epicentre of worldly debate or power [while Guam and New Zealand seem beyond the cyber world of U Tubes to judge from Gautam’s and Douglas Farrer’s inability to view the clip].

Thus, impressed as I was by the forcefulness with which Wafa Sultan confronted the Islamic world in the heartland itself — insofar as Al Jazeeera is so located – I considered the ‘tale’ worthy of notice in our circle.

I am grateful to Ajit for bringing me up to speed and introducing me to a range of debates with which I have limited familiarity. I did note Wafa Sultan’s either//or approach to the subject – an attitude I do not share. Ajit’s comments notwithstanding, I think she is brave, as, indeed, indicated by the manner in which a mullah branded her a “heretic”.

I thank Ajit too for making me aware of the American context of debate and for opening up a fascinating, if contentious, terrain of discussion for consideration.

It will now be inserted on https://sacrificialdevotionnetwork.wordpress.com/
which, incidentally, has VIRULENT POLTICS in its formal title.


Bodhi Dhanapala is not a member of our cluster and his intervention indicates considerable entreprenuership! Apropos of his query and its implicit political positioning, I note (A) that The present regime came to power on a campaign which explicitly lauded the 1956 political transformation and may even have contained references to its totemic emblem, Anagarika Dharmapala; and (B) that in the last 5-8 years there have been sporadic attacks on Pentecostal and Catholic churches.

I do not have figures on the latter phenomenon and would appreciate it if someone posts cross-reference or gives some basic empirical facts.

For those unfamiliar with Dharmapala (1864-1933) note the two articles in my anthology Confrontations. But what is more pertinent to this issue is the situation today and rohan Bastin’s article is hot press; see Rohan Bastin, “Sri Lankan Civil Society and its Fanatics,” Social Analysis, Spring 2009, vol. 53/1, pp. 123-40. His abstract runs thus: “The current moment, seen by some as an interregnum between societies of discipline and control, is marked by intense forms of religious fanaticism and iconoclasm that are striving to create new forms of the state. This is evident in the militancy and political engagement of Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka, who promote war against Tamil separatists as well as violent resistance to the proselytization identified with global civil society agencies that, due to the war and the 2004 tsunami disaster, have been active in the country. The article looks at this rising Buddhist militancy, which is associated with a political party that is linked to the more famous party known as the JVP. It argues that instead of resisting the formation of the new global civil society, the iconoclasm of this Buddhist political formation is facilitating its establishment.

If so disposed I encourage some of you to read Rohan’s article and initiate separate debate within the s/v/p web site.

MICHAEL Roberts, 25 Oct 09

On a different tack, I recommend a read of Mike Marqusee: If I am not myself, London: Verso, 2008. In this book “he reminds us … that Zionists and anti-Semites sg hare the same sinister, racialized concept of group identity. both in the eloquence of his writing and the deep humanism of his vision, he stands shoulder to shoulder with the spirits of Isaac Deutscher and Edward Said” (reviewer Mike Davis). Mike is an anti-zionist Jew, and an American in London who has written book on bob Dylan and on cricket. Indeed, I met him because of another cricket addict, Niggy Tiruchelvam.

Apart from content and thrust Mike presents his contentions in accessible language

SWATI PARASHAR Mon, Oct 26, 2009 at 11:00 pm

Thanks Riaz for drawing attention to the critiques. Much appreciated. However, the debate is also about who can speak for whom. If Ali, Sultan and Nasreen can be dismissed as expressing ‘personal opinion and as speaking for themselves, might not it apply to all of us? when can/and most importantly who can effectively be representing a group especially a religious/ethinic group is also worth paying attention to. Why should the experiences of these women not be speaking for/to other women and men. They have received considerable support too and that cannot be overlooked. I have been greatly troubled by these questions because my fundamental understanding and postion is that religions are patriarchal domains and it is not fair to dismiss criticisms of people (women) who live through different experiences. Does that mean that only certain people’s experiences can be validated? For example, whats so unusual and ‘personal’ about Nasreen claiming the horrifying treatment of minority women by Islamists in Bangladesh and why should these women’s lives be brutally threatened by the radical forces only because they argue that their  experiences reveal religions are oppressive and patriarchal ? Whats so unusual and personal about critiquing ones experiences of belonging to any community? I am thinking of Rajini Thiranagama too, who had the courage to speak against the LTTE. She also spoke against a community that she belonged to, didnt she and paid the price with her life.

I am raising these questions in order to argue that we should not also be hasty in dismissing these women, their locations and their politics. Religions should not be sacrosanct domains which are beyond common critique and dissent. Religions/practices and popular culture  are so intrinsic to our lives (I speak as a South Asian and specifically as an Indian) that it is important to allow ‘personal’ critiques and enagage with them. I am against the politics of silencing these women only because they speak in a language we are unwilling to understand or appreciate. My point is again, how do we decide whose critique is valid and representative?
Thanks to Michael for facilitating this debate.

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