Muslims are often accused of not speaking out sufficiently against terrorism. Nonie Darwish knows one reason why: Their fellow Muslims won't let them.
Darwish, who comes from Egypt and was born and raised a Muslim, was set to tell students at Brown University about the twisted hatred and radicalism she grew to despise in her own culture. A campus Jewish group, Hillel, had contacted her to speak there Thursday.
But the event was just called off.
Muslim students had complained that Darwish was "too controversial." They insisted she be denied a platform at Brown, and after contentious debate Hillel agreed.
Weird: No one had said boo about such Brown events as a patently anti-Israel "Palestinian Solidarity Week." But Hillel said her "offensive" statements about Islam "alarmed" the Muslim Student Association, and Hillel didn't want to upset its "beautiful relationship" with the Muslim community.
Plus, Brown's women's center backed out of co-sponsoring the event, even though it shares Darwish's concerns about the treatment of women. Reportedly, part of the problem was that Darwish had no plans to condemn Israel for shooting Arab women used by terrorists as human shields, or for insufficiently protecting Israeli Arab wives from their husbands.
In plugging their ears to Darwish, Brown's Muslim students proved her very point: Muslims who attempt constructive self-criticism are quickly and soundly squelched - by other Muslims.
"Speaking out for human rights, women's rights, equality or even peace with Israel is a taboo that can have serious consequences" in the Arab world, Darwish says. In part to drive home that point, she wrote a book, just out. Its title says it all: "Now They Call Me Infidel: Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel, and the War on Terror."
Darwish argues that her own community - in the Middle East and in America - is hostile to criticism, even from Muslims. After 9/11, she says, many in Egypt refused to believe that Muslims were responsible. Instead, they blamed "the Zionist conspiracy."
From her childhood in the '50s, she's seen seething animosity toward Jews, Israel, America and non-believers generally pervert her culture. "I asked myself, as a Muslim Arab child, was I ever taught peace? The answer is no. We learned just the opposite: honor and pride can only come from jihad and martyrdom."
In elementary schools in Gaza, where she lived until age 8, Darwish learned "vengeance and retaliation. Peace," she says, "was considered a sign of defeat and weakness."
An event in 1996 inflamed her longstanding frustration with her community. Her brother suffered a stroke while in Gaza, and his Egyptian friends and relatives all agreed: To save his life, he needed to go to Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem, not to Cairo. Even though they had spent their lives demeaning Israelis - and boasting of Arab supremacy.
Hadassah saved her brother's life; understandably, her appreciation for Jews and Israelis grew. Today Darwish preaches not only the almost embarrassing lengths to which Jews go to seek dialogue and peace, but also their cultural, political, scientific and economic contributions.
Such notions from anyone in the Arab Muslim world are indeed rare. But Darwish isn't just anyone: Her father was killed by Israelis. Yet she doesn't blame the Jewish state - for her father was Lt. Col. Mustafa Hafaz, an Egyptian who headed one of the modern world's first terrorist groups, the anti-Israel fedayeen in Gaza.
Hafaz's terrorists killed hundreds, maybe thousands, of Israelis in cross-border attacks. Of course the Israelis fought back. Darwish realized that Egyptian ruler Gamal Abdul Nasser, who controlled Gaza, had sent her father to a certain death.
Hafaz became a shahid - a martyr for jihad - and that bought Darwish's family great status. She'd rather have had her father alive.
Darwish's message is invaluable for our age. Too few Arabs and Muslims share her desire for peace with Israel, equality and cultural reform; too few speak - in their living rooms or mosques - about the need to root out radicals from among them. When one Muslim voice does raise such sentiments, it deserves to be heard. Too bad the young Muslims (and their Jewish enablers) at Brown won't hear it.
And if those values can't be espoused in America - land of tolerance and free speech - well, what hope is there for meaningful cultural change?
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