Nonie Darwish, author and public speaker, will be visiting UC Davis on Wednesday, Oct. 22 at 8:30 p.m. in 1100 Social Sciences. Hosted by the Davis College Republicans, the title of her presentation is “Searching for Peace Within.“
“From the side of my culture, the Middle East, I will start by saying every culture has challenges with peace and we might end the finger-pointing,” she said.
Darwish, author of Now They Call Me Infidel, will begin her speech by delving into her upbringing and introducing her perspective on peace between cultures. She will also discuss women’s rights in the Middle East and her belief that American Muslims need to speak up.
Darwish was born in Cairo, Egypt and grew up in Gaza. In 1978, she moved to America and became a Christian.
“I don’t consider [that] I left Islam,” she said. “Islam left me. When I went to mosques in America the atmosphere was very anti-Semitic. I was told, don’t assimilate in America. I lived with that religion for a long time I didn’t want to go anymore. The way Islam is brought today is very anti-women and very anti-minority. Islam law is very oppressive of women and minorities. I could not reconcile that and stay a Muslim.“
After the events of 9/11, Darwish started speaking out against radicalism, hate speech and violence.
“The human rights of 3,000 were taken by people whose religion told them to do so,” she said. “They are following the words of their religion literally. And unfortunately I don’t just blame them; I blame their teachers and religious leaders. There is a lot of literal education of religion in the Muslim world going on right now. If the Koran says strike the hearts of unbelievers they go strike the hearts of unbelievers.“
Sept. 11 prompted Darwish to begin an online forum called Arabs for Israel that is for Arabs and Muslims who support the state of Israel and the cause of peace in the Middle East, according to the organization’s website. She soon started receiving e-mails of support from Arab readers, but the senders always told her to refrain from publishing their names.
“I thought there was a need for good and free-loving Arabs to speak out for their wish of peace for Israel but they are still afraid because it’s a taboo,” she said. “I created this as a forum to speak freely.“
Allison Daley, Immediate Past Chair for the Davis College Republicans said DCR invited Darwish to speak because she will be an interesting and different speaker who has a unique experience to share.
“People will be more open and aware that this going on. We want everyone to come with open hearts and open minds,” Daley said. “We believe that peace comes from the heart, from the individual. We hope that people take away that peace in the Middle East can be achieved and women’s right in the Middle East as well is a big issue. We want a message of peace and love and for everyone to be able to get along in the Middle East without killing.“
President of the Muslim Student Association Yussuf Abdel-aleem said Darwish takes examples from certain instances related to Islam and attributes them to the whole Muslim population.
“We don’t like people like Darwish to come because we feel they misrepresent and misconstrue Islam,” said Abdel-aleem, a senior political science major. “For example, she generally shows Islam as misogynist and chauvinistic, which is the case sometimes, but she can‘t make the distinctions between cultural differences between the religion of the Islam and the reality of Islam, which 2 billion people of the world are practicing today.
“And she is part of what the Davis College Republicans are trying to do – to tarnish the image of Islam,” Abdel-aleem said. “I feel like half of what she says is for shock value.“
In response, members of DCR said all student groups are welcome to listen to Darwish and her experiences. DCR encourages people to come with open minds, Daley said.
“Obviously on a campus such as UC Davis the Republicans don’t have a great reputation,” Daley said. “We want people to understand that whatever the stereotype of Republicans might be, they should form their own opinion and meet us. We work towards peace and having people like Darwish who have a message of peace and hope.“
Darwish also said she is trying to speak out against only those who are radical.
“I know the majority of Muslims are good and peace-loving people and those are not the people I’m talking about,” she said. “I criticized Islam and I have the right to.“
“In my culture they are very sensitive to self-criticism and it is time to get over such views because I consider it a virtue [to criticize one owns culture]” she said. “How did we produce so many people who are ready to kill others? Not all Muslims but quite a few of them. Why did this happen? What did we do to produce them? There is something in our education or way we teach our religion.“
POOJA KUMAR can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.