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