"Are you a heretic?" demanded Al-Khouli in triumphant tones. "You can say whatever you like," she replied. In an age that has brought us the Theo van Gogh assassination, deadly riots over a series of Danish newspaper cartoons, the Pym Fortune assassination, the death threats against Salman Rushdie, Hirsi Ali and Ibn Warraq, among many others, it requires truly remarkable courage to stare into the Al-Jazeera camera and calmly permit yourself to be labeled a heretic.
Sultan was raised as a pious Muslim, but her faith was shaken when she was studying medicine at the Aleppo University in northern Syria. As The New York Times reported, terrorists from the Muslim Brotherhood burst into her classroom in 1979 and shot her professor as she watched. "They shot hundreds of bullets into him, shouting, 'God is great.'" It was a turning point in her life. She eventually left her home and moved with her husband and children to the United States.
Sultan's debate is available on The Middle East Media Research Institute's website at www.memritv.org. MEMRI says that the video has already received 3 million hits since it first aired on Feb. 21, 2006.
Courage is among the rarest of virtues. Most people will not risk even the displeasure of their boss, far less their very lives, for something they believe in. Sultan doubtless speaks for millions of Muslims who similarly deplore the barbarism that has come to dominate large segments of the Muslim world. But without leadership like hers, they must feel besieged and beleaguered. Her heroic stand deserves our awe and deep respect. Stand up: Ms. Sultan is passing.