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Egyptian-Born Writer Works for Peace Between Israelis, Arabs

March 1, 2007 By:
Ryan Teitman
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Nonie Darwish
"My culture of origin is in a head-on collision with the rest of the world," Nonie Darwish told the crowd gathered at the Congregations of Shaare Shamayim in Northeast Philadelphia. The Egyptian-born journalist, lecturer and founder of ArabsForIsrael.com, a Web site that supports the state of Israel and Middle Eastern peace, spoke to the congregation on Feb. 26 about her experiences growing up in a culture aggressively opposed to the notion of compromise, and made her case for Arabs to pursue understanding and dialogue with Israelis.

Darwish's lecture was sponsored by the synagogue and the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

The activist, 58, was raised in Cairo and Egyptian-controlled Gaza. Her father was an officer in the Egyptian Army, and in charge of military intelligence in Gaza. Her family returned to Cairo when she was 8 years old. She eventually attended the American University there, where she earned a degree in sociology, then worked as a journalist for the Middle East News Agency before moving to the United States in 1978, where she is now a citizen.

She is the author of Now They Call Me Infidel: Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel and the War on Terror, and founded her Web site after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. ArabsForIsrael.com compiles sites that promote understanding and provides a forum for Arabs and Muslims to speak out against terrorism.

She noted that as she was growing up, she saw that terrorism was a source of pride in Arab countries, but now "it's coming home to roost," with conflicts within the Muslim world erupting as well. With women kept in submission and men in a permanent state of holy war, everyone is locked in poverty, she said, thus allowing tyrannical governments to control the people and the wealth.

"Terrorism is not a sign of power," she explained. "It's a sign of turmoil." Government-sponsored hate speech and propaganda are increased to quell any desire for freedom.

"I lived for 30 years in oppressive police states," said Darwish, who now resides in Los Angeles. "I have never heard a song of peace in Arabic."

"Peace was never an option," she continued. "It was never discussed." Her culture saw compromise as an admission of weakness, she argued, heaping shame onto Arab children who questioned the motives of why they were supposed to hate.

"When hatred and violence become a basic social value, it taints people," she said.

Darwish criticized Muslim clergy who preach intolerance from their mosques. "Instead of being a source of comfort and wisdom, of stability," she said, they incite anger. "They work their worshippers into a frenzy."

She argued that it was time for Arabs to show compassion toward Israel: Peace will be just as beneficial to the Arab nations, she said. "Israel is our excuse to keep things the way they are," she explained, ensuring that people are subjugated by making Israel into a perpetual enemy.

Arab governments are always under the threat of coups d'état, Darwish noted, especially moderate governments. "Only tyrannical governments can survive," she said. To keep the focus outward, these regimes perpetually blame an external enemy: Israel. "We are creating a false enemy because we need an enemy," she said.

"I can't help but wish that my people could see what I see and hear what I hear," she said about her ongoing relationship with the Jewish community.

She calls her culture one "in desperate need of reformation." The anger and hatred she was taught as a child is on the rise, and counterproductive. "It's bad for the Arab world itself."

"Self-criticism is a virtue," said Darwish. "It is time to start questioning ourselves."

She called for moderate Arabs to speak out against their oppressive regimes, and praised those who have had the courage of their convictions to raise their voices, even when it has landed them in prison.

"The true freedom fighters," she said, "are the moderate Arabs who are speaking out."

 

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