"The al-Jazeera network deeply apologizes for the fact that one of its programs' participants degraded Islam and the monotheistic faiths on her own initiative. The channel extends its apology to all its viewers for the offensive remarks and has canceled both reruns of the program," the network said in a statement.
The unusual apology came following a debate on the talk show "The Opposite Direction" – one of the station's flagship programs, which has stirred many rows in the past with harsh criticism against the Arab regimes.
This time the program hosted Wafa Sultan, a Syrian psychologist living in the United States. On the agenda were several explosive components: The Muhammad cartoons in Denmark, Israel's operations in the Gaza Strip, the Holocaust and especially Islam.
Here is what Sultan said: "All the religions and faiths have been subject throughout history to criticism and insults, and this helped to develop and amend them over time. The only faith which beheads those who oppose it – is destined to turn into terror and tyranny.
"This is the situation of Islam from its beginning to this day. It has sentenced its critics to prison terms, and those who escaped custody were killed. The Danish cartoons have managed to drop the first brick in the wall and open a window, through which the sun rays will be able to enter after a long period of darkness."
She went on to say that "the Danish newspaper implemented its right for freedom of expression. The freedoms are the holy of holies in the West, and there is nothing which supersedes them.
"And I say, if Islam was not what it is, these cartoons would not appear. They did not come from an empty space, and the cartoonist did not make them up from his sick mind. They were an expression of what he is familiar with."
Describing the illustrations, Sultan continued, "The Muslims' barbaric reaction added to the value of these cartoons. It simply proved their rightness: The Muslim is an irrational creature, and the things he learned overpower his mind and inflame his feelings. That is why these remarks have turned him into an inferior creature, who cannot control himself and respond to events in a rational way."
Sent by Zionist intelligence?
Tala’at Ramih, an Egyptian Islamic writer and researcher, who clashed with Sultan on the program, responded with astonishment: "God forbid! These are all one hundred percent lies. It appears that the American and Zionist intelligence have already begun creating people hostile to their nation in this way."
The program's host, Faisal al-Qasim, asked her, "Why is the freedom of expression in the West holy only when it comes to humiliating Muslims? Can they talk about the Holocaust? Can they talk about Christianity? Cinemas have been torched in the West for talking about Christianity."
Sultan fought back: "I live in America and I never heard of one cinema being torched here. Where do you get these reports from? You should criticize your beliefs in the same way the Christians criticize their beliefs."
The debate quickly moved to the events in Gaza, which have already been compared to a holocaust in the Arab world.
"When a person detonates himself he becomes a terrorist, but when a people and an entire state are destroyed it's human?" the host asked.
Sultan replied, "Why are they angry about what is happening in Gaza. The Koran has already told them, 'Kill or get killed.' So they kill and get killed. What is wrong with that? They want to die as shahids (martyrs). They want to meet their black-eyed virgins. Israel helps them meet them, so what's wrong with that?
"If you want to change things, you must reexamine your terror studies; honor the other's right to live; preach love, peace and coexistence to your children. When you do that, the world will respect you, see you differently and portray you differently."
Later in the debate, Sultan condemned both the Palestinians and the Israelis "in the same way" and complained about Hamas' choices. She spurned the Holocaust denial in Europe.
The popular television program caused great anger against al-Jazeera, which was expressed in other media outlets.
"It sparked a new scandal by hosting Sultan, who is known for her hostility towards Islam and the Muslims. She cursed the divine religion, attacked the Koran and scorned the prophet's honorable way," the London-based Arabic-language newspaper al-Jazeera wrote.
"Al-Jazeera's silence is unforgivable," a Jordanian newspaper wrote. "This network leads the normalization campaign with the Zionist enemy and is the only one which hosts the official spokespersons of the enemy's army and government."
Al-Jazeera chose to apologize, and according to one report, even warned the host not to let Sultan take part in the program again. But this might not be enough.
"This apology is weak, lacking and unacceptable, and does not compare to the level of harm which appeared on the screen," a special committee declared, demanding that the Qatari network publish a clearer apology and devote an entire program to discuss this issue.