She was born and raised a Muslim in Cairo, Egypt and in the Gaza strip in the 1950’s, brought up in an atmosphere that supported hate and retaliation towards Jewish people and where questioning either was forbidden.
Her name is Nonie Darwish, an American resident since 1978, married and mother of three. Her voice has become a megaphone for Arabs who support Israel. That’s right… support. Darwish spoke this week at the University of Maryland. She is a dynamic speaker whose passion is contagious.
Darwish offers a take on the Middle East that you don’t often get on a college campus. Her story is an interesting one- filled with heartache, courage and hope. She grew up in a military home, her father assigned by Egypt’s President, Gamal Abdel Nasser, to lead military intelligence in Gaza and in Sinai. There they made cross-border attacks into Israel, killing 400 Israelis and wounding more than 900 others. When she was eight years old he was assassinated as a result of the Fedayeen operations. Egypt proclaimed him as national hero and a martyr, and promised revenge on Israel for his death. Darwish remembers President Nasser coming to their home to pay his condolences and asking her and her siblings “Who would avenge his death by killing Jews?” She sat there in disbelief because she did not hate Jewish people as she was taught to do so.
As a child she would often ask people, “Why do we hate Jews?” People would respond, “Aren’t you Muslim?” She grew up being told not to take candy from Jewish people because “they might be trying to poison you or it may have a bomb in it.” Darwish said Arabs view Jews as some type of “evil alien from outer space” that they want nothing to do with. From a young age she knew there was something very wrong in the way her religion was taught and practiced.
After attending American University in Cairo and working as a journalist for the Middle East News Agency, she moved to the U.S. with her husband. After many encounters with Jewish Americans, her question was finally answered, “Jewish people are ok, not perfect, but human.” She also quickly learned, and much to her surprise, that even in the U.S. Muslim mosques were breeding grounds for anti-American and radical Islamic thinking.
Darwish credits the 9/11 tragedy for prompting her to speak out, “When the Arabs called 9/11 an Israeli conspiracy… that was the tip of the iceberg for me.” She admits she was outraged and angry, and so disappointed in the Middle East culture that she grew up in. “I wish I did not have to be critical of my own national origin, but how can I pledge allegiance to the US flag and not do so. How can any US citizen of Arab origin defend 9/11? America gave me freedoms I could never dream of in Egypt and I owe her gratitude and loyalty. I see one Arab after another on T.V. trying to explain 9/11 away and find excuses for terror. There is no excuse for terror. I am angry and ashamed of a Middle East culture that is out of control. My integrity cannot allow me to accept anything but the truth, what is moral and right, and the truth is that I see Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and the ONLY one truly committed to peace.” Darwish stated on her website www.arabsforisrael.com.
Though she has yet to receive a direct death threat, her outspokenness has gained her lots of media attention in Egypt. Newspapers have labeled her a traitor and made disturbing comments such as, “We should strip her of her Egyptian passport and kill her,” and “If she ever comes to Egypt she will only need a one-way ticket.” “Discussion of terrorism in my country is like an elephant in the room, nobody wants to talk about it or you will be labeled an Islamaphobe or racist. I am labeled these things because I reject Islam, but I cannot lie,” she said. However, after an interview she recently gave to the Al Arabiya TV station (aired around the Arab world) a third of Arabs comments on the broadcast supported Darwish.
Darwish wants to make it clear that despite her strong feelings towards Islam she is very proud of her Arab heritage, “It would be a mistake to think that by supporting the existence of Israel or Jews in the Middle East then I must hate Muslims or Islam. Supporting Israel does not have to cancel out my love for my national origin, however, that I have to admit reformation in Islam and Arab culture and society is desperately needed.”
Her future outlook on the Middle East situation is grim: “Peace is not an option… Peace with Israel was never advocated as a solution in the Arab educational system and media. I really don’t think they can even comprehend the concept of co-existing in peace with Israel.” But she will remain optimistic for a change, “With Sadat’s peace treaty of course there is hope. I never said there is no hope. Despite of all the indoctrination and anti-Semitism some Muslims do believe in peace, but very few are vocal about it or dare to say we must have peace with Israel. I am one of the few and what I wish to accomplish is promote the idea of reconciliation with Israel.”
Just recently, Darwich finished her first book, Now They Call Me Infidel: Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel and the War on Terror. The book recounts her personal story as well as a scholarly analysis of Middle Eastern culture. Darwish also writes regularly for her website and is a regular guest speaker at events nationwide.
Wendy Cook is a staff writer for Accuracy in Academia.