by Nonie Darwish
This speech was
presented at the Carnegie Mellon University Lecture Series entitled
"Arabs For Israel".
It is an honor to be speaking here today. I thank you for inviting me.
I am one of a growing number of people of Arab/Moslem origin who OVERCAME a lifelong indoctrination into hate, anti-Semitism and distrust of foreign cultures and religions. My story is similar to many in Arab countries who have lost family members to Jihad against Israel. The only difference is the ending.
I was a young child in Egypt during the 1950's; a time of Gamal Abdel Nasser's revolution. His vision of Arab Unity against Imperialism and Zionism rallied the Arab world. The national anthem of Egypt and many Arab countries is a call for Jihad, love admiration and longing for weapons and war. Many songs on the radio were a call for war, resistance, defiance and adoration for President Nasser.
My father was a top Egyptian military officer assigned to head the Gaza and the Sinai region, which at that time was under Egyptian rule. My family moved from Cairo to Gaza's war zone.
I remember hearing Egyptians say "those damn Palestinians went right back to work in their fields and businesses after Israel became a state like nothing happened." Palestinians were shamed and blamed for loosing their land. My father's job was to mobilize young Palestinians in Gaza, take them out of their jobs and form the first "fedaee" unit to penetrate inside Israel and cause as much damage, destruction and death as possible.
My siblings and I attended Palestinian schools there. The education was mainly political, teaching kids the hatred of Israel and Jews. Incredible stories were told on how Jews kill Arab women and children. The word "Jew" instilled terror and dread into the hearts of children. A Jewish person was portrayed like less than human, an evil alien from outer space who was about to destroy the world. Maybe they didn't look human or looked like monsters, we thought. We were told the Bible and Torah said they were all sinners and cursed.
In kindergarten and early elementary school I saw 5 and 6 year-old Palestinian girls reciting poetry, in tears, pledging Jihad, giving up their life for their land and promising to kill the Jewish enemies of God. We were expected to memorize this poetry without missing a word. When I could not remember the poem, the principal hit my hand with a ruler.
I was told not to take any candy or fruit from strangers since the Jews could poison it or put a bomb in it. Our house in Gaza was surrounded by soldiers. I slept some nights under the bed fearing the sound of bombs and explosions.
We were never told of the historical roots of Judaism in the region or the existence of Middle Eastern Jews. Jews were portrayed as foreigners who came to the Arab world to take over. Jerusalem was portrayed as a Moslem city. When the historical order of the religions was mentioned, they immediately said "but Islam is the last and final religion that Jews and Christians should convert to." American movies are very popular in the Mideast, especially the violent ones, but I never saw movies about Moses and Jesus. Moslems were shielded from learning about Christianity and Judaism. I remember my Aunt when she visited the US at age 70 was surprised when she knew that Jews don't eat pork and that Abraham was the father of Judaism. She said "I didn't know they are like us!" Moslem education suppresses any knowledge of how much Islam borrowed from Judaism and Christianity.
The indoctrination was not just in schools but also songs, poetry, media, cartoon and every facet of life. The divine mission of every generation was to take over the endless duty of Jihad. Jihad, even through terror became an entitlement.
The goal of education was to instill a commitment to destroy the state of Israel; which became a national obsession. Arabs convinced themselves that the existence of Israel gives them a CARTE BLANCE to do ANYTHING and nothing was more sacred. The end result is a culture out of control fueled by oil money and contaminating the world with terror.
When, as a child, I questioned the incredible indoctrination I was told that I would be a traitor and go to Hell. I quickly learned that if you refuse to hate, or if you doubt or question what you are taught, you become an outcast, and I learned to keep my mouth shut.
Any sympathy or cooperation with the enemy would result in death. One of our house help that I remembered with affection disappeared and I later learned he was sentenced to death for cooperating with the enemy.
The indoctrination into hate of Moslem children serves more than one purpose. It causes fear in the hearts of children which helps make them COMPLY as 'good Moslems'. One has to hate the enemies of Islam to be a good Moslem. The enemy then contributes to the unity and cohesion of Moslems and ensures compliance. This is necessary in an oppressive culture that discounts individual rights, privacy and promotes death for God's approval. How do you get them to comply? Fear of enemies. The unity of Moslems has to be maintained and nourished constantly or else the constant flow of young people ready to give up their life will stop and the anger will turn inward. The infidels, or non-Moslems, are extremely useful to maintain a constant state of Jihad.
However, I remember little stories that cracked the indoctrination in my mind and made me doubt the lies. My Grandmother once told me how her best friend who was Jewish, was evicted from Egypt with her whole family. She said in tears, this friend was the best human being she had ever known. It was also common knowledge, in spite of the hatred, that the word of a Jew is very reliable, like a contract, they said. It was then clear to me that Arabs are trying to hide the true nature of the Jews.
My father did his job as a duty, but he was not happy with it and was looking forward to a promised transfer to a new safer post. Before his transfer, he was killed in a bomb explosion. My then four year-old brother witnessed it.
Immediately after my father's death many people congratulated (!!!) us as the children of a hero and a shahid "Martyr". I resented the idea of martyrdom which took away my father. Schools and streets were named after him. I was later shocked to know that almost 90% of streets in Egypt were named after martyrs.
After my father's death we received a visit from President Gamal Abdel Nasser who expressed his feelings that "All Egyptians should avenge his death." There was of course no mention of the heavy toll of death and destruction which Egypt had brought upon Israel that lead to my father's death.
I attended a private Catholic school in the heart of Cairo, run by Irish nuns. Later my school was put under the Egyptian government control.
Life in Cairo was cosmopolitan. In the late 50's there were still some traces of the diverse population of Egypt. Educated, upper-class Egyptians looked forward to more Western modernity. But some left Egypt by choice when Nasser nationalized all large businesses and followed a socialist agenda. The country started rapidly declining economically, culturally and politically. The Egyptian film industry, which was world-class, started deteriorating after many talented people left the country, many of them Jews.
Nasser's rule of Egypt ended with a humiliating defeat and the unnecessary loss of thousands of lives. That was a major setback that paved the way for Islamic fundamentalism to rise in the seventies. The point I am trying to make here is that wars with Israel hurt Arabs not only in the loss of land and lives, but also in every aspect of their political, economic and social lives.
It was very hard for my mother to live in a culture that gives respect only to families led by a man. All the good Moslems who were very proud of my Dad stopped visiting after a few weeks. Relationships among Moslem women were extremely competitive since, according to Islamic law, husbands can have up to four wives, therefore visiting and befriending a young widow could be very threatening. My mother did get proposals from some married men!
The first day I attended my Catholic school, the nuns told my mother they were praying for her. She was very touched and told us that was the kindest thing ever told to her since my father died. I noticed that this kindness came from Christians.
Imams in Mosques verbally attacked Christians and Jews openly on loudspeakers. I remember visiting a Christian friend during the Friday prayers, and we both heard the loud verbal attack on Christians and Jews. My friend looked scared and I was very embarrassed and frightened.
I was ashamed of the teachings in the mosque. I wondered, why don't Moslems pray for Christians and Jews like my nuns did for my mom.
Moslem clergy have failed miserably in stabilizing their society. Instead of being a source of comfort, they have become a source of anger, rage and subversion. Moslem clergy have no respect for the legitimacy of any government or its constitution, and no government is Moslem enough for them, even that of Saudi Arabia! Middle Eastern governments are all struggling to stay in power always under the threat of a coup d'etat. The result is that only tyrannical governments can survive. Some Arabs blame the US for dealing with and supporting these governments, as though we created them. Arabs have no one to blame but themselves for having corrupt governments.
The end result of this indoctrination and breeding resentment, anger and revenge is chaos, and that is what we are seeing now with terrorism. A vicious circle of feeding and financing the insanity of terror has now extending itself not only to Israel but to the rest of the world and now it is turning inwards against the very governments that created it. Arab culture produced a monster of terror and now they are struggling to put off fires threatening their very survival.
I was in Egypt during the 1967 war. Everyone was joyfully excited over fighting Israel and throwing them into the Mediterranean. Something deep inside me told me we were wrong. During the six-day war the Egyptian media fed us lies of how the enemy was defeated. The truth of the devastating defeat came out after the war. Nevertheless, there was no public outcry over media lies.
Egypt became an economic basket case where the population was isolated from the rest of the world in an oppressive, stagnant socialist experiment. Exit visas were required to leave the country. I was happy to move to the USA in 1978.
My first job in the US was given to me by a Jewish small businessman. Both he and his parents were very kind and generous with me. In the US many of my friendships were with Jewish people and to my surprise we had much in common. I often heard my Jewish friends talk about peace, love and understanding.
In contrast, when I was among some Moslems, I heard such things as "Israel is gasping in its last breath, Islam should spread in America, Farakhan is very useful to the Arab cause". I started seeing several Egyptians wearing Islamic clothes for the first time in their lives right here in the US. This is the result of Wahabi mosques built in the US, financed by Saudi Arabian money. That was when I realized that the danger I escaped from was following me right here in my beloved USA.
I visited Egypt in the summer of 2001, after 23 years of being away. My visit left me with deep feelings of pessimism and fear. Islamic fundamentalism had taken over and anger and hostility was brewing. Anti-Semitism and Anti-American propaganda was widespread. The newspapers were praising Jihad and suicide missions and attacking the American Ambassador for being Jewish. Some of my own cousins were voluntarily wearing a burka. My mother was happy and proud that the news papers revived my father's memory as the good old days of fedaee resistance. I told her they are using the old story to stir up anger and action against Israel. I was not surprised to hear of the tunnels to smuggle arms on the Egyptian/Gaza boarder.
I was happy to arrive home in the States on September 10th, 2001. I woke up the next morning to the scenes of the World Trade Center in flames. I was horrified and knew that Arab Jihad was behind this unspeakable terror.
I needed comfort and wanted to believe that the attack was the work of a minority of fanatics to be denounced by the majority of decent Muslims. So I called an old friend who had been a father figure to me. This kind, soft-spoken gentleman was outraged and chastised me for daring to say that Arab terrorists were responsible for 9/11. He said "Don't you know this is an Israeli conspiracy?"
My childhood girlfriend yelled and shamed me on the phone that I should owe everything including my total allegiance, to my culture of origin. A top journalist at "El Ahram" newspaper said he doubted this was done by Arabs.
Later, as US troops were deployed in Afghanistan, some told me that the food drops on Afghanistan was poisoned by the US and that the US wanted to get permission from Pakistan to us chemical and biological weapons against Afghanistan. Without exception, they were all very angry at me. None of the people I talked to was considered an Islamic fundamentalist.
The reaction stunned me and I realized how far apart we have grown. It is not easy to stand alone against deep rooted cultural and religious beliefs that many of my countrymen still believe in and hold dear. I had to find great inner strength to stand alone against the culture of terror and call it what it is.
Many people in the West say that Moslem extremists are the minority versus the so called moderate majority. I disagree. There is no moderate majority; there is a misinformed and indoctrinated majority. They are prisoners of misinformation.
The Malaysian president, who recently gave the speech denouncing Jews and accusing them of conspiracy to rule the world by proxy, is regarded by many Arabs as Moderate! If there WAS a Moslem moderate majority, we would have seen the proper confrontation between the majority Arab population and the so called extremists who support terror. This confrontation should have happened after 9/11, but it never did. A confrontation of this sort is necessary for ending terror. I believe it will eventually happen sooner or later.
After 9/11 most Arab Americans were silent. I chose to openly express my gratitude to the United States and my support for Israel.
I support Israel because it is not a threat to Arab nations. No one in their right mind would think that Israel would want to occupy Damascus, Cairo or Baghdad. THE TRUTH IS that Arabs and Palestinians reject living in peace with Israel. Peace is not what they talk about when they are away from Western media. They don't want or understand how to co-exist with Israel. Israel is fighting for its very existence. What are Arabs fighting for? They are not fighting for their existence, maybe for their pride, but for sure they are fighting a religious war that is a ritual and a goal in and of itself. They'll do anything and everything to stay in the headlines and keep the world busy with their "melodrama". That's all what the world is talking about; the Middle East crisis!
Terrorism is the warfare of desperate people. Arabs are not and should not act desperate or use terror to bring down the world around them. There is nothing honorable about terror, it is a dark ugly side of human nature.
Another reason I support Israel is that I believe that the RELIGIOUS DIVERSITY of the Middle East will result in a much richer culture. The three major religions should flourish and co-exist in peace. I admire the achievements by Israel in the region despite of the extraordinary conditions and difficulties created around them. Israel is an asset in the region, economically, culturally and historically. The Jewish heritage ties us to the historical origin of the region. The Arab dream of limiting the population of the Middle East to only Moslems is not only wrong but will further deteriorate conditions in the Area. Arabs need not envy Israel's success but compete with it in a free market economy.
Jewish people are special to me personally. Several years ago my brother suffered a stroke. The people around him chose to take him to Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem because they trusted the treatment there more than any other Mideast Hospital!! He was given a 3% chance of survival. He lay unconscious in the hospital for almost 3 months. Thanks to the heroic efforts of the Jewish doctors and nurses, his life was saved. I understand that Hadassah hospital treats many Arabs. These Arabs choose to get treatment at enemy hospitals for simply one reason. They trust them. I want to know how many Jewish people's lives will be saved by Arab doctors in Arab countries? I thank Hadassah for taking the higher ground.
A year ago, I spoke to a Hadassah women group, as I spoke I looked at the eyes of these wonderful ladies. I saw a tear and I also saw grace, dignity, compassion, dedication and forgiveness despite of all the adversity. They work in silence joined by love of their fellow man and their faith. That day I became a life time member of Hadassah.
I AM AFRAID of the current Moslem supremacist culture and the totalitarian police states that most Arab countries have become. Israel allows dissent and their views range from far left to far right and still respect each other. I AM AFRAID of a Religion that gives a "Fatwa" to kill those who disagree. Moslem hatred of Jews scares me and is destructive to my soul and humanity.
I AM AFRAID of a culture where Generals kiss the hands of the dictator who has replaced God in their value system. I am afraid of a paranoid culture that blames everyone but themselves. I
PITY AND RESENT Arab mothers who suppress their natural motherhood instinct and celebrate the suicide of their own children and the death of Jewish children.
The way the Jews are being treated in the Middle East is tragic and a disgrace! No nation and no people should be treated like that. A Billion Moslems all over the world are obsessed with fear and hate towards a small nation of six million, one million of whom is Arab. Moslems should shed old battles and fears, forgive their enemy and see the true enemy within. They need a GREAT SATAN outside their boarders to hang there problems on. In the meantime, ignore the great Satan within their boarders. Arabs accept a lot of abuse from their dictators. Arab media COVERED UP decades of Saddam Hussein's torture and murder of Moslems. Until today many Moslems do not know what really happened in Iraq and Kuwait. There is evil in the abuse and degradation of the lower classes in the Arab world, honor killing of girls, slavery in the Sudan, Moslem against Moslem brutality and discrimination against Christians.
Arabs need to realize is a new world and nations are more interdependent and respectful of one another. Neither Arabs nor Israelis are perfect but there has to be room for forgiveness and compassion to fellow man.
I only see Israel extending its hand for true peace. Arabs need to put down their armaments and false pride, and be grateful for their wealth and land, from the Atlantic to the Indian Oceans. Moslems should elevate Islam by abandoning terror, celebrating life and giving sincere peace a chance for the sake of their children.
AND TO CONCLUDE,
The Islamic conference could have expressed the compassionate side of Islam to a world hungry to see that side humane side of Islam. Instead, they chose the same old anti-Semitism paranoid rhetoric. Could you imagine the impact on World peace if the Islamic conference had actually prayed for peace with Israel! What grace and elevation to the stature and prestige of Islam that would be. What a missed opportunity for Moslems to show the world that the Holy Land can be made truly holy by giving the Jewish people the respect they DESERVE in the area. I will never loose hope.
Nonie Darwish is a writer,
former editor and translator who was born in Egypt and raised in Gaza
and is now living in the United States as a proud American of Arab