British author Dr. Qanta Ahmed spoke on Wednesday at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem about the difficulties for minorities in Islamic societies and how Israel is the only country in the Middle East that tolerates them.

The event was organized by Alan Schneider, director of the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem, and cosponsored by the Ecumenical Theological Research Fraternity as part of their joint Liaison Committee forum.

The forum serves as an informal initiative aimed at fostering better mutual respect and understanding between local Christians and Jews.

Ahmed is a British sleep-disorder specialist working in New York State, whose parents came from Pakistan after moving there from India.

She visited Israel for the first time and gave a lecture at the symposium on Wednesday evening dealing with radicalization and minority persecution in the Islamic world.

The rise of political Islam that has been particularly pronounced as a result of the Arab uprisings is a threat to minorities and to Muslims who do not agree with the ascendent radical ideology, Ahmed said.

The persecution of Christians and other minorities is not getting the attention it deserves from the mainstream media, she said, adding that only a Muslim like her can get away with criticizing Islamic societies without being castigated as a bigot.

Israel does not fit the description of an apartheid state and instead, the media ignores the real problem, which is in the Muslim world, she said.

Illustrating this point, she said that it was only when she went to enter al-Aksa Mosque that she was asked to prove she was a Muslim in order to enter. She did so by reciting the shahada – the Muslim declaration of faith, that states there is one God and that Muhammad is his prophet.

“This is the first time I gave this talk in the Middle East and the only place in the region where I can give this talk and go home afterwards,” Ahmed said. She added that the boycott of next month’s President’s Conference in Jerusalem by British scientist Stephen Hawking is misplaced as he never boycotted Pakistan despite its deplorable human rights record, including its persecution of minorities.

Dr. Michael Widlanski, an Arab-affairs expert and lecturer at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, also spoke, asserting that modern Muslim society is more intolerant than in antiquity. He said that because Muslims see the failure of the Islamic world when compared to the power and technology of the West, they look for scapegoats and this often affects relations with minorities.

He faulted US President Barack Obama for trying to charm the Islamic world along with America’s enemies, just as he does with his country’s voters. Widlanski explained that Middle Eastern culture puts importance on honor and shame, which can be used as tools in pressuring Arab governments.

Ahmed discussed her experience working in Saudi Arabia – the topic of her book, In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor’s Journey in the Saudi Kingdom, which documented the rampant anti-Semitism in the country and lack of women’s rights.

She said that Muslims she encountered saw Jewish intellectual prowess as particularly irritating.

Ahmed said that her writings have caused problems for her when traveling to Muslim countries and some have gotten angry and broken off contact with her.

Pakistan is particularly dangerous, she said. On her last visit she went as a doctor, not an author, and was surrounded by numerous military guards at all times.

It is the radical Islamic ideology that has “corrupted” Islam as it was practiced throughout history, said Ahmed, adding that the “the Muslim Brotherhood is a fictional manifestation of Islam.”

To think that the golden age of Islam can be returned through jihad, subordination and a war on secularism, is a “distorted religion,” she stated.

Radical Islam can be both violent and nonviolent, she asserted, and many feel that as long as there is no overt violence, these organizations are legitimate, referring to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which rules without resorting to the jihadist methods of al-Qaida-like organizations. But these nonviolent Islamists such as the Muslim Brotherhood are “no less malignant,” Ahmed said.

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