Wafa Sultan on Islam and The Landmark Forum
Dr. Wafa Sultan, the controversial critic of radical Islam that Time Magazine called one of the most influential women of 2006, took the Landmark Forum and mentioned it in a 2006 article in The Kurdistan Times, in which she credits the Landmark Forum for helping her remove past fears. The article describes some of her personal experiences, and is reprinted in an English translation at length below.
Where are the women of Egypt?!
Is there no woman in Egypt who has a shoe? I swear with the dearest that I have that if Sheikh Tantawi had spoken to my daughter like that, even if it cost me my life, I would have thrown my shoe at him, and even if it did not cut off his head, it would have blown his turban away between heaven and earth! Sheikh Tantawi, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, entered a classroom, pretending to be the Voltaire of Muslims at the expense of a child who is barely twelve years old, and shouted at her, ordering her to take off her veil: You look like that and you are veiled; what would you have done if you were beautiful?! Then, and indulging in blowing his empty drums at the expense of her mental and psychological wellbeing, he continued: “I am more knowledgeable than your parents!”
Does this insane man realize the scope of the psychological damage he has caused the girl?! Suffice it what he has done to her burqa, and he came to plant the bullet of his treachery in a dead body, indulging in his distortion! A child will not accept to remove her head scarf unless she is forced to, or if she is convinced that her body is a disgrace and she must hide it, and both cases are sufficient to destroy her emotional and mental energies!
Tantawi did not want to leave the girl’s energies intact; he wanted his harsh words that are devoid of any feelings to wipe out the effects, descending the girl to the level of an ugly creature that does not deserve to be looked at by anyone! His insult to her in front of her female colleagues and teacher will leave in her deep subconscious a wound that will be difficult to heal with time, unless scientifically qualified people interfere to treat that wound! Even when specialists can treat it, a scar must be left behind that will cause her pain in her life from time to time….
I have never been a lover or amateur of belly dancing, because in short, I see in shaking the belly and the rear a banal and cheap art that is not worthy of watching. But I am fond of watching dances like Dabke, especially by the Syrians and the Lebanese, and I dream that I will be able one day to join a Dabke ring when I am invited to a wedding or an Arab celebration here in America. I think that my desire to enjoy this art stems from the collective spirit of joy, which prevails over everyone when hands join and the rhythm of the feet intertwine in harmony. It is a collective spirit that is rare to see among Arabs outside the Dabke area! But the problem that stands between me and Dabke is that I have a phobia – a severe fear – of the dance floor, and I avoid passing near the stage. The roots of the problem go back to the day that I had to leave my table for any reason at any celebration. I was a five-year old child at most, and I was with my family celebrating a wedding of a relative. I think my grandmother wanted to leave the wedding for some reason and she tried to persuade me to leave with them. She came close to the dance floor and picked me from my arm and pulled me as she said: come… stop dancing, everyone is laughing at you! My grandmother killed at that moment my desire to enjoy this art forever…!
Last year I was visiting a friend, a Syrian doctor living in Arizona. He invited me to a party hosted by “The Middle East Club” in the state to celebrate the graduation of the children of Arab families from high school. During the celebration, people started dancing the Dabke and things heated up, and my friend and his wife tried to convince me to participate in vain. During the break, we chatted and I told them the story of my grandmother and my fear of Dabke circles. He smiled and said: I will rescue you and save myself and all my family, and went on to say: Is there an Arab man carrying a trace of a scar from suffering of the past?! I did not understand what he meant by saving me, but when I returned to California several days later, a woman contacted me and presented herself as a representative of the Landmark Education Institute and explained that Dr. such-and-such has paid subscription fees to the Institute and wants me to join one of his lecture series, a three-day stretch from eight in the morning until ten at night, and then explained to me the nature of the lectures and their desired objective, so I accepted the gift and called my friend in gratefulness….
That gift was not cheap in terms of its financial value or in terms of its educational value, for it exceeded 700 dollars in fees, but its guidance value exceeds my ability to evaluate it. The institute has its own studies on the effects of psychological and mental sabotage and how to repair those damages. The lectures were intense and exhausting, but added to my knowledge in ways that I can never fully appreciate. The lectures focused on uncovering the unconscious and suffering and attempted to overcome the negative impact caused by them, by breaking the link between the consciousness and the moment in which such suffering occurred. I must admit that the lecture series got rid of most of my fears that the past had planted in my subconscious, but it did not help me learn the art of Dabke, for learning as an adult is like engraving on a stone, as I no longer have time or energy to waste in more engraving…
Why is the destructive impact of verbal abuse stronger than physical abuse?
When a victim is physically abused, the abuse leaves an immediate direct impact that could make people around the victim sympathize with the victim, and this sympathy in turn reduces the severity of its lasting impact. On the other hand, verbal abuse passes without anyone noticing its immediate and instantaneous impact, leaving the victim alone to suffer from the hidden effects of such abuse without anyone sympathizing with the victim. This is one aspect; another is that usually those who harm others with their words insist that they did not mean to harm the victim, and they accuse the victim of exaggerating the psychological victimization that he/she suffers from, and as a result of denial that the abuse was intended, a sense is generated inside the victim that he/she deserved that abuse and that something in his/her personality might justify such abuse, which later leads to a loss of self-confidence, and self-contempt! If we ask Tantawi today about the extent of the abuse that he caused with his rude words to that female child, would we expect him to admit to them?! How will he recognize the abuse when his knowledge never went beyond the limits of the Quran?! The Quran has justified a man hitting a woman, so what is wrong about talking to a girl using words similar to those uttered by Tantawi?! In the West, to become a cleric, a man must be enrolled in schools, and among the most important materials to be considered in those schools is the science of psychology and sociology. Many houses of worship in America provide their patrons with competent guidance clinics, psychological, and often a cleric who supervises a place of worship is also a psychological guide. In the Muslim world, there is a Ph.D. degree in modern sciences, and the holder of such degree cannot exceed in his education the bosom of Abu Hurayrah…!
There are two forms of verbal abuse: 1) the apparent kind that consists of the words of reprimand, accusations, and contempt, and these are said in most cases during bouts of anger in which the abuser rebels against the abused, as in the case of Tantawi and the girl! 2) The hidden type, which includes statements that carry undeclared aggression, and sometimes pretends to be loyal and have good faith. This is the worst form, and creates over time the gradual dominance of the abuser over the abused! This form occurs frequently in the Arab world and destroys gradually, without anyone paying attention to its devastating impact. Hoda said to me: “I have never in my life found a reason to rebel against my mother-in-law, for she is smarter than to give me a reason to rebel against her! During the twenty years of my marriage to her son, she did not say a nice word to me, and in order not to do her injustice, she did not leave a single cell in my brain which she did not contribute to its damage.” Hoda is an educated woman, but like most women in my country, she does not have control of her home. All that her mother-in-law says from sunrise to the time it dips in the horizon: The food tastes good, but lacks salt… ghee… sugar… spices…. The kitchen is clean now, but the refrigerator needs to be cleaned from the inside…. Sarah’s (granddaughter) dress is beautiful, but you forgot to change her diapers since this morning…. You told me that the doctor has advised me to take three pills a day and I think that he said two pills…. Ahmed (her son) has not come home yet, it seems that he finds more comfort with his friends… and so on. Hoda says: “Over the past twenty years, I have sought in the consciousness of my subconscious to please my mother-in-law who pretends to be seeking my happiness and to recognize my favors, by using double-meaning words glazed with hate and disdain, which with time have robbed me of my confidence,” and she adds: “I became aware of this malignant style after it was too late; that devil has robbed me without knowing of my sense of self-worth and I no longer appreciate myself.” The method that Hoda’s mother-in-law uses is the hidden form of verbal abuse, and it is the most common and most destructive at the same time….
How could Tantawi be aware of those facts when he has never seen them? Quite the contrary, he learned what encouraged him to follow such behavior, for a woman in the books that he studied was nothing but a plow that is at his beck and call! Women in his books and references are like a harvest that is collected, rather than a mind capable of giving and creation. Some protest my words by saying: Why are you criticizing Islam rather than criticizing the behavior of Muslims; is Islam responsible for every calamity that befalls us? My answer: Sure, no calamity befalls us, without its roots extending to the depth of the biography of Muhammad, including his actions and words! If Mohammed was not an example to Tantawi, to whom will he be an example?! He was quick to assess the young girl by looking at her face and before he knew anything about her mental and intellectual abilities, using the same method that his prophet used in choosing a wife to marry. Muslims justify Mohammad’s many wives by saying: He wanted to rely on women to propagate his religion?! When you choose a woman to spread your ideology, how you choose them?! Are you looking at her body, and place your clothes on her as a sign for having selected her?! When Muhammad looked at the slave Safiya, he replaced her with seven women from the tribe of Sahm who he had captured, and when he caught sight of Zeinab while she was naked in her tent, he seized her from her husband in one night without taking into account that she was married. As for his choice of Aisha and Maria, you can speak unabashed! Did Sheikh Tantawi exceed in his assessment of a student the evaluation method of his Prophet of the women whom he married?! In television interviews that followed the event, Tantawi did not condemn the veil, rather he justified the request to the girl to take off her veil, saying she was still young and has not yet matured yet? The question that arises here: Was Aisha an adult when Mohammed asked for her hand from her father and the day he made lover to her?! Then, another question of another type floats to the surface: If Tantawi realized that the girl was the daughter of a senior official in the Mubarak government, would he have dared to blow his poison in her face?! He transgressed against her because he realized in his heart that she comes from a vulnerable family, and that he is under the protection of a dictatorship that does not respect the lives of slaves! How can we rehabilitate the Sheikh, cognitively and morally, unless we reconsider the teachings of this good example?! As long as Tantawi and his likes issue fatwas for the nation in their conduct and life, will there be hope that we can instill life in the dead boy of the nation? How many Landmark Education institutes will we need to fix what that idiot and his like damage?! Pending institutes such as those, our work should focus on parents and educators! I urge all parents to protect their loved ones from the impact of profanity, which robs them of their self-confidence and steals from them in a hidden and invisible way their sense of self-worth! We are a generation that was oversaturated with bad words; we can not repair the damage of what has been destroyed inside us, but we can protect the new generations from the toxins that we have swallowed! Bad words leave a very deep wound that no healer’s hand can reach to treat, so how can a father or mother accept for that to be inflicted on his or her beloved child?! Talk to your children in a positive and nice language. Raise them to be self-confident, and train them to be aware of the nature of the language that their teachers and people in their community address them with, and to reject bad words and to let you know about these bad words so that you can play your part! Tantawi and his like are puppets that the dictator moves as he pleases, and those puppets repeat like parrots the archaic references that they have learned. Do not allow them to exceed the limits of well-mannered behavior with you; trim the tongue that insults your children, for you are the ones who decide what works for them, and no one has the right to attack your children! If Tantawi’s incident of the child with the burqa occurred in a free society, then this society would have forced the perpetrator to sell the pair of pants he/she is wearing to pay financial compensation to the girl for the psychological harm he/she inflicted on her, not to mention the long years of imprisonment that he/she would serve! The child would have also been immediately sent to the psychologist to mitigate the severity of that harm. But as long as we live in a society controlled by the hocus pocus of the seventh century, governed by laws similar to the law of the jungle, parents should protect their children from their own tongues and the tongues of others! Sometimes you cannot be polite and a person of principles at the same time, and today we are facing an impossible situation where being polite no longer works! I wish I could get to know the mother of the girl to lend her one of my shoes, for words of reason will not in that case deter an imbecile who lost his mind and his senses! Who can guide me to the girl’s mother, and then watch the turban of Sheikh Tantawi?!