The Austin Chronicle

It's a Tough Subject to Speak On...

By Matt Martinez, March 31, 2008, 1:45pm, Newsdesk

It's always the Q & A part that gets these public speakers, isn't it?

During her talk on "Why I renounced Jihad" Wednesday at UT, Egyptian-born American writer Nonie Darwish managed to lose all credibility with the university's Muslim contingent with one comment during her Q & A segment.

The question was about anti-Semitism in the Middle East and along the lines of, "Christians in the area are just as anti-Semitic as are Muslims. How do you reconcile that with your beliefs on Islam?"

To which Darwish replied, "Well, I don't see any Christians flying planes into buildings."


While the mostly Jewish audience clapped at the blanket statement, my notebook went flying into the air and most of the remaining brown folks in the room got up and left.

Outside afterwards, one man, presumably Jewish, was very apologetic about Darwish's remark, as if to say, "We don't all believe that every Muslim keeps a plane in the back for building crashing."

Mohsin, a Muslim electrical engineering freshman who preferred to use only his first name, said that his friends had tried to calm him down, but he just had to leave the talk early.

Mohsin said that they way he was taught about Islam, co-existence between Jews and Muslims is extremely important.

But Darwish said that co-existence wasn't being taught in Egyptian mosques, or at those in Gaza, where she was raised. She said there are loudspeakers outside the mosques in Egypt so even those who don't make it to the services can hear the imam decry Israel and call for death to the Jews.

This language of death is what drove Darwish, she said, away from Islam in the Middle East. She said a few years ago was the first time she had visited the country of her birth in more than 20 years.

"At Gaza Elementary, we were made to learn and repeat lines about self-sacrifice, pledging jihad against Israel, pledging that we wanted to die," Darwish said.

She said in those days, when Gaza and the West Bank were under Muslim rule, the sites were "simply used for launch sites for attacks on Israel" and infrastructure was completely ignored.

"It was Arab League policy to keep Palestinians there as permanent refugees. They were kept out of other countries," Darwish said.

Darwish's father, Lt. General Mustafa Hafez, founded the Fedayeen, which launched raids against Israel's southern border in the '50s, killing hundreds of Israelis. He was assassinated in retaliation.

According to Darwish, then-president Gamal Abdel Nasser asked her and her siblings, when she was eight years old, "Which of you will avenge your father by killing Jews?" Lovely.

You guys need to stop cutting each other's throats. Here's Darwish's Arabs for Israel.

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