Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Nonie Darwish, author and founder of ArabsForIsrael.com. She grew up in Cairo and Gaza, the daughter of a high-ranking Egyptian army officer. She now lectures around the country to civic organizations, universities, churches, and synagogues. She is the author of the new book, Now They Call Me Infidel: Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel, and the War on Terror.
FP: Nonie Darwish, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Darwish: My pleasure.
FP: Tell us some of the things you were taught as a child in the Arab Middle East.
Darwish: I was born and raised as a Muslim in Cairo, Egypt and the Gaza Strip. I attended Gaza elementary schools where I learned hatred, vengeance and retaliation. Peace was never as an option; it was considered a sign of defeat and weakness. Those who wanted peace and compromise were called traitors. Jews were described as monsters, apes and pigs and the enemies of God from the pulpits of mosques. When I asked: “why do we hate Jews?” The answer was: “aren’t you a Muslim?”
Shaming is very strong in Arab upbringing. We were told outrageous lies about Jews: "Don't take candy from strangers since it could be a Jew trying to poison you." We were also told that Israeli soldiers would kill pregnant Arab women just for fun, place bets on whether she was carrying a boy or a girl, and cut her open to see who won the bet.
My classmates would cry while reciting Jihadist poetry daily, wishing to die as martyrs. The teachers filled our hearts with fear of Jews, which made hatred come easy and terrorism tolerated. The propaganda of jihad, hatred and anti-Semitism was everywhere and not just in schools; it was in mosques, newspapers, movies, by politicians, in the arts and in many Jihadist songs over the radio. Mosque prayers often ended with cursing of the infidels (non-Muslims). Believe it or not, if you grow up with prayers like that, it can sound and feel normal.
FP: Who was your father and what were the circumstances of his death? How did this affect your family?
Darwish: My father was Colonel Mustafa Hafez and he headed the Egyptian military intelligence in the Gaza Strip and the Sinai in the 50s. The Egyptian President at that time was Gamal Abdel Nasser, who was committed to unifying the Arab world, destroying Israel and standing against Western interests in the region. Under orders from Nasser, my father started the Fedayeen, which means “armed resistance”, a guerrilla-style operation against Israel. They made cross-border attacks into Israel and caused a great deal of death, damage and destruction.
There were several assassination attempts on my father by Israel. My father wanted to leave his post as a result but this was delayed because Nasser needed to find a replacement. In response to the terror, one night Israel sent its commandos to our heavily guarded home in Gaza City, but my father was not home. All the Israeli soldiers found were us, women and children. The Israeli soldiers left us unharmed. I was grateful they did not kill us; especially since the Fedayeen did kill Israeli civilians. The next morning the security personnel around were taken for interrogation by the Egyptian government to find out who was the traitor. My favorite guard who always played with us was killed during the interrogation.
After two years of intense Fedayeen operations, my father was killed in the first targeted assassination in Gaza in July of 1956. I was 8 years old and had four siblings. My father was extremely loved and respected by many and until today his name is on a street and school in Gaza city and in a street in Alexandria. In Nasser's famous speech to nationalize the Suez Canal, he hailed my father as a national hero, a Shahid. President Nasser vowed that all of Egypt would take revenge and made no mention of the heavy toll of death and destruction brought upon Israel by the Fedayeen. My siblings and I were asked by top government officials: "which one of you will avenge your father's blood by killing Jews?" We all looked at each other, speechless; none of us wanted to kill anyone or be burdened by such a question.
FP: You show how polygamy is a religiously sanctioned structure in the Islamic world. Tell us how you witnessed its affect on women and on the rest of society.
Darwish: Polygamy is allowed under Sharia Islamic family law. The Muslim marriage contract allows a man to marry up to 4 wives and thus loyalty to one woman is not required. Men do not even have to exercise that right to additional wives for the damage to be done. By allowing men to be “loyal” to up to four wives, the stage is set for women to distrust their husbands, especially in times of trouble. Nor can they trust women friends who can be eligible to marry their husbands.
The basic loyalty bond between husband and wife is the basis of all loyalties in the family. In polygamy this basic bond shifts from husband/wife to wife and her father or male blood relatives and later to a woman’s first born son. A woman’s father or son becomes her protector and defender in time of trouble in the marriage or when the husband marries another woman.
Many Muslim apologists say that Muslim women have more rights than Western women because they keep their own wealth separate from the husband's. But they refuse to say why. The reason a Muslim woman keeps her wealth is because her father will never allow her inheritance to go to a Western style community property where it could be shared with a second, third or even a fourth wife and their children.
Even though most Muslim men do not practice polygamy, many others do. Because polygamy is allowed and sanctioned by Allah, it changes the dynamic of the wife/husband relationship and family loyalties. A Muslim woman does not change her name after marriage, but often goes by her first son’s name; for example “Um Muhammed” or “Um Ali” - that is mother of Muhammed or mother of Ali. It becomes a Muslim woman's identity and source of pride.
Even in Arab folklore and stories such as Tales from the Thousand and One Night, it reflects the impossible life of the main character Shahrazad who was one of a Harem struggling to survive by telling tales to the polygamous Arab kind. Listening to these stories taught us the art of manipulation to survive among competing women and one king.
That injustice to women is further complicated with an easy divorce existing only in the hands of the man. Women do not have the same right to divorce but can only ask the husband for it -- but if he refuses she has to go to court for years to get it. Sharia law also allows husbands to beat their wives who are not obedient. Just imagine that: a husband can have a second wife and not give his wife a divorce and if she disobeys, he can beat her. All of that is legal under Sharia Islamic law. Such laws turn the relationship between husband and wife from that of partners to one of slave and master. The victims in all of this are also the kids who are brought up by an oppressed mother who constantly need their support and approval against the father if he gets himself another wife. The children will have a lot of competition over the attention of the father who has several wives and several sets of kids.
I believe that even Muslim men are harmed by their right to polygamy which deprives them from a secure loving one man/one woman commitment. Because of polygamy and other sexual restrictions in Muslim society, poorer men have a hard time finding wives who sometimes prefer to be the second, third or fourth wife of a wealthier man. The end result is a large population of sexually deprived unmarried young Muslim men, angry and ready to listen to the calls of jihad in their mosques. Jihad and martyrdom thus become the only guarantee for heaven where 72 virgins will greet them with open arms. In this divine promise from God, polygamy still exists in heaven – and to the disadvantage of the Muslim woman.
FP: You make the point that Islamic terror has its roots in the rage that exists within the Muslim family. Can you talk about that a bit?
Darwish: Every Muslim family that lives in a majority Muslim country lives under Family Sharia (Islamic) Law. Sharia Law is divided into Criminal and Civil and Family Law. Criminal Sharia Law is not practiced in all Muslim countries and the reason is because it is simply cruel and unusual punishment; it includes amputation of limbs, flogging, beheading and stoning to death
Family Sharia law is practiced in all Muslim countries and some Muslims in the West are demanding it. Family Sharia law gives most rights to men and very little rights to women. For example, Muslim men can marry up to 4 wives and even have the right to engage in sexual relations under the concept of “ma malakat aymanahum” -- which means owned women slaves. Slavery has been abolished officially in Muslim countries, but a man’s sexual right to “owned women” is still wide-open for reinterpretation.
In Saudi Arabia and many other Muslim countries, for example, maids are systematically raped since some men interpret their position in the family as a sort of slavery. The Muslim marriage contract is different from the Judeo/Christian marriage contract. In a Muslim wedding, the man does not vow loyalty to only one wife. Even if the man never exercises the polygamy right, the damage to the marital relationship has already been done. In the back of the mind of every Muslim woman in time of trouble is the reality that her husband can choose to solve the problem by having a second wife instead of going to marriage counselling.
I have heard Muslim women in the Middle East beg their husbands during an argument: “You can have a girlfriend if you want, but please do not marry on me for the sake of the kids.” In the West, the source of all loyalties in a family originates with the husband/wife loyalty and trust relationship where the man vows to be faithful and true to his one and only wife -- till death do us part. Such a vow by a husband adds stability and trust in the marriage. That gives wives equality, dignity and protection; not only for them but also for their children. Because of polygamy rights to the Muslim man, Muslim women have developed a need to protect themselves; thus you see no community property in the Muslim family unit. Muslim scholars often claim that Muslim women have more rights than Western women because they have the right to keep their property separate from that of their husbands; that is true, but they don’t tell you why.
The right in question has developed so as to protect a wife’s property inherited from her family from going to the second, third or fourth wife. Polygamy thus totally changes the dynamics of the relationship between husband and wife or wives. The loyalty unit is no longer husband/wife, but wife and male members of her own family and later wife and her first born son who will protect her interests if the husband gets another wife. In the Arab world, women do not take their husband’s name but keep their family name and often go by their first son’s name. Thus you see Arab women proudly call themselves “Um Ali” or “Um Muhammad” -- meaning mother of Ali or mother of Muhammad.
Polygamy rights are often complicated by other oppressive laws to women. For example, divorce is in the hands of the man only; a woman can only ask her husband for divorce, but he can refuse so she has no alternative but to spend years in court where her testimony is half valid than a man’s. Divorce is not only in the hands of the man, but it is also the easiest divorce in the world; all the man can do to have a divorce is bring any witness and say “I divorce you” three times; that’s it and the wife is divorced.
This injustice to the Muslim woman is compounded by the right of a Muslim man to beat his wife if she is disobedient. Think about it; a Muslim woman can legally turn into one of several wives, beaten if the man perceives her actions as disobedient and cannot even divorce the husband unless she goes through years of divorce court.
There are many other injustices for women which add insult to injury; a woman’s testimony in court is half valid to a man and she only gets half the inheritance of her male brothers. What complicates all of that to the Muslim woman, and even man, is that a Muslim man’s honor is directly linked to the sexual purity of his female relatives. Thus you see the Muslim man burdened by monitoring the behavior and chastity of his females. Many Muslim men are always eager to cover up their women whose bodies are considered great temptation that must be covered. Thus the family honor is linked to women’s bodies; a value which often ends in tragedies such as the honor killing of girls.
Of course not all Muslim women are abused or a part of a harem. There are many powerful and educated Muslim women whose husbands do not choose to marry a second wife. However they are not the majority and in time of trouble even the most powerful Muslim woman in Sharia courts will often lose to her husband simply because she has very few rights. Because of the inferior position of the Muslim woman and because of depriving the Muslim man from the security and stability of a one man/one woman marriage contract the scene is set for a lot of turmoil, anger and manipulative behavior for self-protection between the spouses.
How can an oppressed woman bring up happy and healthy children? Even sons? Character is dependent on an oppressed woman in the first years of life. That is the dilemma of the Muslim family. Polygamy rights do not only hurt women, but they also negatively impact younger and poorer males in the Middle East from having wives. Some Muslim women often choose to be an additional wife to a wealthy man than the first wife of a poorer man. The Middle East has a large number of unmarried and sexually frustrated young men who are ready for jihad and the 72 virgins awaiting them in heaven. That is what they hear in mosques every Friday.
FP: You describe how Arabs see a virtue in never admitting a mistake. To say the least, this kind of psychology necessitates pathology and the failure of a culture. No? Tell us about this mindset and its effects.
Darwish: The Arab culture is famous for its concept of pride. Image is very important and pride and shame are great motivators. Protecting the image of Muslims in front of the non-Muslim West is vital. Thus elaborate behavior is done to saving face. Admitting to a mistake can bring terrible shame and is not regarded as a virtue; those who admit to mistakes are not rewarded for their honesty but ridiculed and shamed or even severely punished. Until today most Muslims blame 9/11 on a Jewish conspiracy. The father of Muhammad Attah in Egypt, for 4 years denied that his son headed the 9/11 terror attack even when the whole world saw him checking into the airplane that slammed into the twin towers. Only recently Atta's father come out and admitted he is proud of what his son “the Shahid” and not the terrorist has done.
There are people in Arab jails right now who are accused of defaming Islam or their country in front of non-Muslims. This defamation can be a simple praise of Christians or Jews and of being critical of radical Islam. Fear of being accused of defaming one’s tribe, nation or religion leads to a culture that tends to blame others rather than look within. The Judeo Christian culture concentrates heavily on the concept of “we are all sinners and only through the grace of God we can be saved.” That is a big relief to the Western psyche. Muslim education views members of other religions as sinners; the infidel non-Muslim sinners can only be saved by announcing they are Muslims. It is a prominent part of the Jewish faith to talk about God’s punishment when they are disobedient to God’s laws.
That honest admission by Jews is not viewed by Muslims as a virtue and a step towards self-improvement, but as an admission of wrong doing and that Jews are bad and deserve God’s wrath; that is why to many Muslims Jews do not deserve land or a nation. “They themselves even admit that they are sinners,” I once heard a Muslim say. There is also a concept in Islam called “taqueya” which allows lying to non-Muslims if it is in the best interest of Islam. That concept is very deep in Muslim culture that we don't even think of the term “taqueya” any more; it has simply penetrated every aspect of Muslim life. Because of it there is very little self-criticism.
Thus, saying sorry, admitting guilt or looking within for solutions is not a strong value; it will surely get a person in deep trouble instead. Such a person will bear the blunt of the blame for everything -- even for what he did not do; thus you have Muslim denials and defensiveness over matters that many in the West cannot comprehend. Muslims are in denial when they say that Muslim women have more rights than Western women; even many Muslim women convinced themselves with that and defend Sharia Law rather than say the truth in front of the non-Muslim West.
Muslims are in denial when they say Israel is behind all Muslim terrorism across the globe, even 9/11; they are in denial when they say that Arab tyrants are the product of American foreign policy, but when America takes out Saddam, they say “you are interfering in our internal affairs.” That is why many Muslims say one thing to the West in English and the opposite to Arabs in Arabic.
Shaming is prominent in the Arab child. To avoid the intense pain of shaming, denying responsibility turns into a virtue to save face and protect one's pride. The concept of “taqueya” is one of the reasons many Muslims were silent after 9/11. Only a few were speaking out honestly and openly by admitting there is a problem in Muslim culture that needs to be examined and corrected. The few Arab Americans who did that where not rewarded for their honesty by their Muslim community; instead they were condemned, shunned and shamed by the majority of Muslims. They are doing everything they can to silence us. They do not want to get into Western style dialogue with us or debate us in the open.
We rarely see Muslim vs. Muslim debate and that is why when the brave Arab American Dr. Wafaa Sultan, debated a Muslim cleric on Al Jazeera TV, it became international news. The thank you she got for her honesty by powerful radical Muslims was a Fatwa -- a death warrant. This explains and exposes the deep cultural need to even lie for self-preservation and protection. They don’t want an honest debate for reform from within; but they want to continue the lies to save face.
Very simply, Islamists do not want to admit to the world their jihadist agenda and their sympathy with terrorists. That is why they simply want to silence the opposition; a Danish cartoonist; the Pope; a Dutch film maker or politicians and the few Muslims and Arabs who dare to speak out.
Our crime is being honest and open about our culture, radical Islam and our wish for reformation. Even after leaving the Middle East and becoming US citizens we still carry the baggage of never admitting to a mistake and always blaming others such as the West or Israel for all internal problems of the Arab world.
This charade of denials and games has done nothing but keep the Muslim world in a permanent state of stagnation, turmoil and poverty despite of the wealth from oil.
FP: Your chapter about how you came to America very much touched my heart. As a young boy who came from the Soviet Union to New York, I found very much in common with how much you loved America. Till this day, several decades later, I remain intoxicated with the littlest things about America. I love America -- like you also do. Can you just share briefly a story or two about your first romance with America when you first got here?
Darwish: Many Americans who came from your or my background never let a day go by without remembering where we were and where we are now. I too remain intoxicated with the littlest of things about America. There was a Russian comedian who praised America for choice; he did that in a comedy setting, but the best jokes are the ones based on truth.
The first thing that an immigrant sees in America is the range of choices; in style of life, religion or affiliations. Respect for diversity, minorities and equality under the law is especially noticeable if you come from a culture that treats women and religious minorities as second class citizens under Sharia Law.
What is most noticeable to a new comer to America is not just a good paying job, but the virtues of many aspects of American culture. The “thank you” or “may I help you” with a smile in the stores and markets of America; the “good morning”, “hello” and a smile to a perfect stranger on the street; the self-sufficiency and pride in physical labor; the openness, honesty and decency of the American people.
No, not all cultures are equal; there are some that make it easier to be human.
FP: You discuss a crucial issue in how you noticed the hate being taught in the mosques when you got here. You also noticed the bizarre phenomenon of Muslims who hate America come to America to live, who live against American values and seek to destroy America through the liberty that America provides. Can you talk about this a bit?
Darwish: I moved to America in 1978 and was glad to leave the culture of jihad, dictatorships and police states behind. I was looking forward to be part of America. But when I went to the local mosque, we were told not to assimilate in America; show your pride in Islam by being noticed as Muslims in America. Women were encouraged to wear Islamic clothes with pride even if Egyptians like myself have never covered their heads or wore Islamic clothes in Egypt.
To my surprise, I started seeing Egyptians and other Arabs getting radicalized right here in US mosques. We were told that Saudi Arabia is building all these mosques, sending their clerics from the most radical Muslim backgrounds and even send the Friday sermons to such preachers directly from Saudi Arabia. When I asked why are we building more mosques than the need of the American Muslim community, I was told we are here to fill them with Americans; to bring Islam to America and change America’s constitution to the Qur’an. I heard some say “congratulations, Europe is now dominated by Muslims; may God bless America with Islam too.”
When Louis Farrakhan was making anti-Semitic and anti-American comments, I heard some Arab Americans who attend mosques regularly, say “Farrakhan is useful for the Arab cause.” Some of the moderate Muslims that I knew started to gradually behave and act more radical. They only befriended other Muslims and criticized me for befriending and marrying an American. They rejected me when I refused to cover my head; something I have never done before. Even my mother and grandmother never covered their heads or wore Islamic clothes all their lives in Egypt. Some even called Americans stupid or naïve for being such an open society. I then started seeing Muslim students becoming extremely active on college campuses while wearing their Islamic clothes with pride. I stared noticing a drift between Muslims and the rest of America, and an attitude of “us against them.”
There seemed to be an attempt to push the envelope further and further every day by some new demand or complaint by radical Muslims in America. Some advocated taking advantage of loop holes in America’s open system and to further Muslim power. Some radical Muslims and shady characters started coming to America and I often wondered why they were here. Why would they choose to live in a country they consider the “great Satan”? Why would they subject their children to the temptations of the West? It became clear to me that America was being flooded by radical Muslim clerics with a political rather than a religious agenda.
One shady character was Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman from Egypt. This man caused so much problems in Egypt and was a suspect in the assassination of President Anwar El Sadat. He fled Egypt to Sudan to cause more turmoil and trouble. From the Sudan he was able to get a visa from the American Embassy in Sudan. He came to the USA to preach in a New Jersey mosque.
Such preachers are often regarded as a joke and as extreme even by moderate Muslims in Egypt only to find themselves with new respectable status and freedoms they could only dream of under Muslim dictatorships. Such Muslim radical preachers should never have been allowed in America. But believe it or not they have discovered that only in America can they work the system to their advantage to demand this and that and if anyone criticizes them they learn the good old buzz words in America: racist, bigot and Islamophobia -- the choice words they learned quickly from some Muslim American organizations who claim to be moderate. These are expressions represent realities that are a way of life in the old country where racism, bigotry and anti-Semitism are the norm. In America these individuals are finally free to spread their hatred, rage and subversion and cause a rift between Muslims and the rest of America.
FP: Nonie Darwish, thank you kindly for joining us. And thank you for your courage to tell the truth.
Darwish: Thank you and Frontpagemag for giving me the opportunity.
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