Egypt-born Arab-American woman fights Islamic culture of hate

Before Sept. 11, 2001, Nonie Darwish led the quiet life of a suburbanite with three kids, a husband and a dog. She was semi-retired after 13 years as a claims adjuster and was spending her time with her family and remodeling her fairy-tale dream home in the San Fernando Valley. But that all changed when Darwish, just returned from a trip to Egypt the day before, discovered that one of the terrorists responsible for the attacks on the United States was Muhammad Atta, an Egyptian from Cairo, her hometown.

She immediately called her friends back home and was amazed by their reaction: “They said: ‘How dare you say that Arabs did this? Don’t you know this is a Jewish conspiracy?’ I was shocked,” she said. “I couldn’t believe what they were saying. Those were not fanatic radicals, but ordinary Egyptians who are otherwise very nice people. I hung up the phone and felt alone and disconnected from my culture of origin. Once again, my people are accusing the Jews of something we know very well that we Arabs have done.”

Darwish began to write articles. She started with a newsletter to a women’s group criticizing the ignorance and denial of the Arab world, which brought her immediate attention, public speaking engagements and a book offer. Suddenly everybody wanted to know what she had to say. She drew attention not just because she was speaking out in support of Israel and criticizing Islam and its culture of hate, but also for her unlikely background. She is a daughter of a famous shaheed (martyr).

Darwish’s father was Lt. General Mustafa Hafez, who served in Gaza during the 1950s as commander of the Egyptian Army Intelligence Force. Hafez founded the Fedayeen, who launched raids across Israel’s southern border. Between 1951 and 1956, this terror group killed some 400 Israelis. In 1956, when Nonie was 8 years old, her father received a package in his office that exploded in his face, killing him instantly — an assassination believed to have been carried out by the Israel Defense Forces in response to Fedayeen attacks. Hafez was proclaimed a shaheed and a street was named after him in Gaza (which still carries his name today). Egypt’s president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, vowed that all of Egypt would pursue revenge for Hafez’s death. Nonie remembers how Nasser asked her and her young siblings: “Which one of you will avenge your father’s death by killing Jews?”

Darwish, who long ago converted to Chritianity, continues to be an outspoken critic of the culture of terrorism in the Arab world. In February 2004, she started an organization called Arabs for Israel. In 2006, her book “Now They Call Me Infidel; Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel and the War on Terror” (Penguin) was published, and she is