Nonie Darwish is an Egypt-born American writer. Her father was the chief of the Egyptian Military Intelligence in Gaza and was killed by the Israeli army in 1956.
Nonie Darwish was brought up in the hate of Jews and Israel.
She worked as a journalist in Egypt.
In 1978, she moved to the United States, and converted to Christianity.
Since September 11, she has advocated for a reform of Islam and peace with Israel. She has founded ArabsforIsrael.
She is the author of Now They Call Me Infidel, Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel and The War On Terror (Sentinel, 2006) and Cruel and Usual Punishment, The Terrifying Global Implications of Islamic Law (Thomas Nelson, 2009).
Slight, lively, she has gracefully accepted an interview in Paris.
Véronique Chemla: Nonie Darwish, thank you for accepting an interview. Let's begin with your childhood...
Nonie Darwish: I was born in Cairo and grew up in Egypt-ruled Gaza in the 50's. My memories of Gaza date until I was 8 and half years old. I was brought up in a Muslim Egyptian family.
My father, Lt. General Mustafa Hafez, lead the Egyptian Military Intelligence in Gaza. After the revolution, Gamal Abdel Nasser, the president of Egypt, was committed to unifying the Arab world and destroying Israel.
Egypt started the fedayeen operations against Israel from the Gaza strip. Fedayeen literally meant a man who self-sacrifices or ‘to give up oneself for jihad'. The fedayeen crossed the border into Israel, killed people, blew up things and came back to Gaza. My father had a hard time finding volunteers to do the fedayeen operations and fight. Traitor was a common description of Arab Palestinians in many Arab countries.
Véronique Chemla: What were you taught in the Gaza public school?
Nonie Darwish: I was taught hate, vengeance, retaliation, that jihad is a war. Peace was never discussed.
We used to recite poetry every day about jihad. It was part of the culture. For instance, we used to play songs: "Arabs are our friends, Jews are our dogs".
Véronique Chemla: How were Jews presented in the Arab World?
Nonie Darwish: Jews were always presented as deceitful people, who want to kill Arabs, especially children and women. We heard incredible stories such as "Jews baked cookies with blood of Arab children". We were told: "Don't take a candy from a stranger. He could be a Jew trying to poison you". We never saw a Jew.
Véronique Chemla: Were Christians hated too?
Nonie Darwish: Islamic intolerance and discrimination were also towards Christians and even minority Muslims such as Shiites and Kurds.
After the Arab nationalist movement and liberation in the 20th century, the pressure on minorities became intolerable and many Christians left and are still leaving the Arab world and migrating to the West.
Véronique Chemla: In 1956, your father became the first targeted assassination...
Nonie Darwish: My father had asked for a transfer. Abder Hakim Amer, the head of the Egyptian Military Intelligence, promised him that as soon as he finds somebody to replace him, he will be transferred. He was given three more weeks. Before three weeks, my father had a bomb letter that had exploded at his office.
Véronique Chemla: How did your family and Egyptian officials react?
Nonie Darwish: It was naturally a horrible event for my whole family which changed our lives forever. After my father's death we moved back to Cairo.
President Nasser gave his famous speech in Alexandria about the nationalization of the Suez Canal, on October 1956. In that speech, Nasser also mentioned my father and said that Egypt will retaliate from Israel. He never mentioned why Israelis had killed my father. So, I thought that the Jews had killed my father for no reason and they liked to kill Arabs.
President Nasser with top government officials came to our home to pay condolences to my mother. My mother made my brother, sisters and me standing a line to greet him. I remember one of the officials pointing at us and saying: "Which one of you will avenge your father's blood by killing Jews?" We were all looking at each other, speechless. I felt that if I really do love my father, then I must kill Jews.
Later in life, I learned that Israelis were in a conflict because they did not want to kill my father, but had too: they knew what an honorable man Mustafa Hafez was.
It took me a long time to make peace with this conflict inside me. Both sides must forgive for the sake of peace. Or else, we'll be in a permanent jihad.
Véronique Chemla: Then you went to a British catholic school in Cairo...
Nonie Darwish: I studied sociology and anthropology at the American University in Cairo and I learned about American democracy and freedoms. My sister also spent a few years in America, and she talked to us about it. I felt that America was my chance for freedom.
Véronique Chemla: Were you questioning Islam?
Nonie Darwish: Not early in my life, but I gradually felt that there was no freedom whatsoever under Islamic Law especially for women.
One day, I visited my best friend who was a Copt (Christian) and lived near a mosque. I heard the Friday sermon in that mosque one day while studying with my friend and the preacher said: "May God destroy the Jews and the Infidels! They are all enemies of Allah, of Muslims!" I saw fear on my friend's eyes. It was the first time in my life I thought something was wrong with my religion.
I compared that to the Catholic nuns in my school who never cursed anyone. I then wondered: "Why are Muslims insulting non-Muslims?" I started a little comparison in my mind, but I couldn't dare say it to anyone.
Véronique Chemla: For six years, you were a journalist in Egypt. In November 1978, you arrive in the US...
Nonie Darwish: That is correct. I moved to the United States with my Egyptian Coptic husband who had family in Los Angeles. We were not allowed to marry in Egypt unless he converted to Islam.
My first job was working as a secretary. In the hallway of my work I noticed a sign that said: "This Company abides by the government laws that there is no discrimination in employment on the basis of gender, religion, race or nationality". This sign made me feel good. That was very different from the Muslim world where men and women, Muslims and non-Muslims had different laws to live under.
Véronique Chemla: What were your relationships with Muslims?
Nonie Darwish: After I arrived in America, I went to a mosque that was run by mostly Pakistanis and Arabs, and financed by Saudi Arabia. In the mosque I was told: "Don't assimilate in America. We're here to Islamize America. We're going to build more mosques. You have to wear your hijab with pride".
It did not make sense that most immigrants from Egypt and more moderate countries, who never wore hijab, suddenly started wearing it for the first time in America! I was shocked by how fanatic they were and how they have a political agenda. I never went to the mosque again.
Véronique Chemla: When did you change your mind towards Israel and terrorism?
Nonie Darwish: I changed gradually and it was not easy after a long life of indoctrination into hate and anti-Semitism.
As I started befriending Jewish people, I realized that many of them are very kind and just like everyone else. I started questioning why my culture was spreading lies and hate propaganda about Jews and the West. I discovered that if Islam demands jihad against non-Muslims, then non-Muslims had to be portrayed as bad or else jihad will end.
I then read books about Jews and their history. I realized everything that Arab kids were taught about Jews were lies.
I also learned good things about Israeli people and government. About 14-15 years ago, my 43 year old brother was in Gaza. He collapsed after a stroke and was unconscious. All the Arabs around my brother agreed: "If you want him to live, take him to Hadassah hospital in Israel". That means that in times of trouble, Arabs trust Israelis. The Israeli doctors and nurses did a miracle. My mother and his wife joined my brother in Jerusalem during his treatment and they told me: "The Jewish people are very good and kind". That is when I saw a different side of Israel. Acts of good will and decency by Israel are never mentioned in the media. I felt that this is not giving justice to Israel.
Véronique Chemla: 9/11 was the event that changed you for ever...
Nonie Darwish: In August of 2001, my husband, children and I went to visit Egypt.
When I landed in Cairo, I was shocked to find that radical Islam has taken over. The majority of women chose to wear Islamic clothes. When I had left Egypt, nobody wore them. I said to myself: "Oh, my God! Did I land in Saudi Arabia or in Egypt?" I saw pollution and garbage in the Nile, high unemployment, and the usual poverty of Egypt. But Egyptian Newspapers only focused on Israel and America bashing. Mosques did the usual cursing of America, the West and Israel.
I returned to the USA on September 10, 2001, at night. The next day, when I saw live on TV the second plane crashing into the Twin Towers, I knew right away: "That's the jihad I left behind".
When I learned later that the leader of the 19 terrorist was Mohamed Atta, from a middle-class family from Cairo, I was devastated. I called many friends in Egypt. They all said: "Don't you know this is a Jewish conspiracy?" I could not believe the level of denial. For how long are we, the Arab people, going to continue to accuse the Jewish people of everything we do wrong?
The way my people treated the Jewish people is a tragedy and a disgrace. This must end. That was the day I decided to speak out and that was the day I totally changed towards Israel.
Véronique Chemla: Did you feel any discrimination after 9/11?
Nonie Darwish: Not at all. I belonged to many women's groups in the USA. The women were so gracious, understanding and nice.
I then wrote an article exposing the jihad and my feelings about terrorism and the education to turn children into killers. Suddenly, I started getting many requests from Jewish groups and political groups to speak. I then discovered that the American public needed more understanding of the culture behind the jihad from an insider like me. Then an agent read my story and encouraged me to write a book.
Véronique Chemla: What do you think of Islam?
Nonie Darwish: The problem is sharia law which was written a hundred years after Mohamed died. All the ills of Muslim society are linked to sharia law which froze 7th century culture into a divine law from Allah that cannot be changed. Sharia law made it a crime punishable by death to promote change or reform in Islam.
I don't think there is enough motivation in the Muslim world for change. That is especially a problem because Islam has no central authority to make rulings that would be respected by the Muslim public.
Mainstream sharia law books define jihad as "To war with non-Muslims to establish the religion" and in Al Azhar University jihad is defined as "a permanent war institution against Jews, Christians and pagans".
It's clearly violence but after 9/11 many Muslims in the West claimed that jihad is an inner struggle. That is misleading because, when the word jihad is mentioned in the Quran, 97% of the time it refers to violence and war. Only 3% of the time it does not refer to violence but to "inner jihad" about how a Muslim must struggles to surrender to Allah, to the Islamic faith, to sharia law and never asks question.
Islam must expand and the center piece of the Islamic ideology is the concept of jihad. Jihad is the responsibility of every single individual Muslim, even if is not organized by the government like in Iran. It is also the obligation of every Muslim head of state (the Khalifa). Muslim leaders who abandon jihad and want peace and treat non-Muslim countries as equals are violating their duty as a Muslim head of state under Sharia. That is why President Sadat was killed. That is why Sadat's peace treaty is a "cold peace" between Israel and Egypt.
The roots of Islamic terrorism are in the Quran. In January of 2006, a member of Egyptian Parliament "Ragab Hilal Hamida", said from the floor of the Parliament that "the Quran directly commands us to commit terrorism, so why are we afraid of it?"
I want to stress that I am not against the good and peace loving Muslims. I am against hated, sharia law and jihad.
Véronique Chemla: There are contradictory sourates in the Quran...
Nonie Darwish: Early when Mohamed started his message as a prophet, he was weak and wanted to attract Jewish tribes to Islam. So he gave good verses about the Jews.
He was in Mecca for 11 years and only had 100 followers. But when Mohammed moved to Medina he became a head of state and a warrior and that was when he had many followers who joined him in the battles and benefited from the bootie and wealth they accumulated. When the Jewish tribes on Medina refused to convert to Islam, they became Mohammad's enemies and thus the Quran verses changed to make them Islam's enemy. From that day, Islam's message was obsessed with killing Jews.
Muslim scriptures have many commandments to kill Jews and Christians, for instance the following hadith (Sahih Muslim book 41, no. 6985):
"The Hour [Resurrection] will not take place until the Muslims fight the Jews, and kill them. And the Jews will hide behind the rock and tree, and the rock and tree will say: oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah, this is a Jew behind me, come and kill him!"
This Hadith is recited in mosques in the Middle East regularly, but when is questioned, Muslims get very upset even if a hadith like that has made a whole group of people ILLEGAL TO EXIST.
Some Muslims claim that the relationship with Jews turned bad only due to the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. That is not true because Muhammad commanded Muslims to kill Jews in the 7th century.
Muslims have been trained mentally to say two opposite things in the same sentence and feel perfectly OK with it. For example: "Islam is a religion of peace, but God bless the 9/11 terrorists".
Véronique Chemla: How do you explain some describe Islam as "the religion of peace"?
Nonie Darwish: The word "Islam" is confusing because it sounds similar to the word "salam" which means peace. The word "Islam" means ‘surrender' or ‘submission.' Islam is full of contradictions and misinterpretations.
Surah 47:35 talks about peace: "So do not weaken and call for peace while you are superior" The translation of Yusuf Ali, says: "Be not weary and faint-hearted, crying for peace, when ye should be uppermost". So, if you are stronger than your enemy, don't ask for peace. Only accept peace, when you loose or weak. So, peace is not a value in itself in Islam. It's a technique in a war.
Véronique Chemla: Does America or the West know the Islamic world?
Nonie Darwish: Westerners judge Arabs and Muslims by their own values. And so are Arabs and Muslims, they judge the West by their own values system.
A major obstacle to understanding between the West and the Muslim world is a Sharia law telling Muslims that Lying (to non-Muslims) is Obligatory if the purpose is Obligatory!! The reference is the Sharia book ‘Reliance of the traveler r8.2'. Thus, if the purpose is jihad (an obligation), then a Muslim must hide his purpose. Unfortunately, very often the West believes the lies. Trust and respect is encouraged to be only between Muslims. Non-Muslim countries are called "Dar Al Harb" meaning "house of war" and lying to them is OK if it is for the benefit of Islam.
Unfortunately, the Muslim world does not see its lies, hypocrisy and exaggerations exposed enough by Western media. Western media is more comfortable attacking itself than exposing jihad, oppression of women under Sharia law or discrimination against minorities in the Muslim world. It seems to be more sensitive to Muslims whom it does not want to offend. It does not take them seriously or is simply afraid of Muslim threats and fatwas of death.
Truth is best for everyone. That's the only way for Muslims to reform.
Islamic law forbids non-Muslims from criticizing Muslims or exposing Islam's week points. This is considered an enormity punishable by death.
The West must not shy from accusations of "islamophobia" if it is reporting the truth.
After September 11, people asked: "Where are Arab voices? Why are they silent?" I and others are speaking out, but Western media is silent. That is very discouraging.
Véronique Chemla: What do you think the European or American "apologize" policy?
Nonie Darwish: Every country has something in its history to be ashamed of. I believe that Western Democracies today and America are doing a lot of good. But the Far Left in Western countries seems to be no longer appreciative of their culture, history and democracy. They seem to constantly want to apologize for example for their period of imperialism. But they never expect Arabs to apologize for Arab or Islamic imperialism. So may be the West should learn a little bit from the Arab world because you can't hand yourself on a silver platter to the Arab world out of guilt over nothing. Believe me, the Arab world will be happy to take it.
President Obama seems to love the idea of apologizing to the world on behalf of America. I think President Obama is trying to appease the Muslim world at the expense of American values and he is going to be disappointed soon. The West needs to foster pride in its democracy that is based on Judeo/Christian values.
Véronique Chemla: What are the main problems of the Arab world: illiteracy, proud, shame, the situation of women...?
Nonie Darwish: All of the above. I believe sharia law is the main problem standing in the way of reform.
The centre of the oppression in Islam is the woman. Everything is sacrificed for the purpose of expanding Islam, even the family unit is sacrificed. Killing men in jihad, making mothers become happy to give up their sons for jihad, that's the destruction of the family. Sharia law turns men and women against each other and tells men not to trust women: there is no loyalty from the husband to his wife because of polygamy. Loyalty comes from a woman's first-born son.
It is oppressed women who bring up boys for the first 7 years of their lives. The boys identify with and absorb her oppression and her victim mentality.
But the relationship between the mother/son has also been poisoned when he grows up and joins the men who mistreat and look down on women. The boy eventually grows to reject the same women who shape the victim mentality. This unhealthy dynamic is the cause of a lot of anger and problems within the Muslim family.
Arab children are especially brought up with extreme shaming or extreme pride.
Furthermore, Sharia law can only promote dictatorships. A Muslim head of State can come to power through seizure of power, meaning through force (coup d'Etat). A Muslim head of State must be obeyed even if he is unjust. A caliphate must rule by and enforce sharia law on the people, but he himself cannot be judged by sharia Hudud laws, such as murder, theft and drinking. Sharia law is not compatible with democracy.
Véronique Chemla: When and why did you create "Arabs for Israel"?
Nonie Darwish: I have received emails from Arabs and Muslims: "I support you a 100%. But please, don't put my name, I'm scared". So, I felt they need a forum to speak. Arabs for Israel started on February 2004.
Véronique Chemla: How are your books greeted in America and by Muslims?
Nonie Darwish: I receive a lot of appreciation from Jewish and Christian people and also from some Arabs who want to learn the truth.
There is censorship in the Islamic world. Arab media attacked me for supporting Israel and criticizing Islam, but they didn't even read my books.
Véronique Chemla: What was the 2007 Islamic secular Summit aiming at?
Nonie Darwish: It promoted the separation of Mosque and State in the Muslim world. It was attended by many Muslims and former Muslims in America to debate. We signed a declaration on what a Muslim country must do in order to live in peace with the rest of the world and itself.
Véronique Chemla: How do you qualify the conflict in the Near-East?
Nonie Darwish: I think this is a religious holy war against a non-Muslim country. It is the Muslim world against Israel. Islam intrinsically rejects peace with non-Muslim countries and is intrinsically anti-Jewish. The truth is that Arabs simply have no tolerance for any nation that is not Arab and Muslim in the region.
Some Muslim leaders say it doesn't matter if Israelis give us all of Israel, we‘ll still kill them.
The word "Palestinian" refers to a geographical area, and not to Muslims or Arabs. I prefer the words "Arabs of the West Bank and the Gaza strip". The Arab world decided the route of jihad and imposed it on them. The Arab League policy did everything it could to keep them in a permanent refugee status. They have been shamed, blamed, pampered and abused, to never have peace with Israel and were given money only for terrorism.
Véronique Chemla: What do you think about Hamas?
Nonie Darwish: Hamas is not only an Islamist group against Israel, but it also hurts its own people. It wants to bring an Islamic sharia-rule State in the region replacing Israel. It's written in its charter.