Nonie Darwish grew up practicing the religion she now condemns.
“Islam is a religion that uses a lot of fear,” Darwish, a Christian convert from Islam and founder of Arabs for Israel, told Roll Call in a recent interview. “The Quran is full of encouragement to kill and to hate.”
Darwish, an author and lecturer, brings her message to Capitol Hill on Tuesday at an event sponsored by the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute.
Typically, when Darwish speaks, controversy ensues. Critics call her an anti-Muslim Islamophobe, a label she dismisses.
“This word ‘Islamophobe’ is a joke. It means that I am afraid of Islam without any reason,” she said. “The whole world is afraid of Islam, let’s face it. … This is not a phobia; this is a real fear.”
Last summer, Darwish caused a stir when she proposed that the teachings of Islam should be “conquered, defeated and annihilated.”
That’s a long way to come for the child of an Egyptian military officer.
Born in Cairo, Darwish spent much of the 1950s in the Egyptian-occupied Gaza Strip.
“Mosque sermons every Friday always ended with cursing the Jews,” she said. “That’s how I grew up.”
Her father, Col. Mustafa Hafez, was appointed commander of Egyptian military intelligence in Gaza under President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Hafez was instrumental in the founding of the fedayeen, a Palestinian terrorist group that launched raids across Israel’s southern border.
“There was so much damage, destruction and death,” she said. “We always had security around us, and guns. Men with guns.”
In response to attacks by the fedayeen, the Israel Defense Forces assassinated Hafez in July 1956.
Darwish was 8 years old.
“I was in a movie theater at the time when the bomb exploded, and we heard it, but we didn’t think much of it. That really changed my life completely,” she recalled.
While paying condolences to her family, Darwish said, Nasser asked her siblings, “‘Which one of you kids will avenge your father’s death by killing Jews?’ And the question made me feel really uncomfortable.”
Darwish moved back to Cairo with her family, where she attended a Catholic high school and American University in Cairo.
Reflecting on her father’s death, Darwish remembers immediately blaming Israel, but over time her views began to change.
“I started feeling the freedom to think for myself, and really things added up,” she said.
“I read more. I began to understand that my father’s death was caused by the culture of jihad.”
At 29, Darwish moved to the United States with her husband. In Los Angeles, she worked as a secretary and claims adjuster for an insurance company.
Disillusioned with her religion, Darwish would eventually leave Islam after discovering a Christian church she saw on television.
“It took me a long time really to find the answers from a wonderful preacher. His name was Dudley Rutherford,” she said. “I really fell in love with this kind of holiness and of preaching peace and love and humanity.”
After she converted to Christianity, Darwish said, her family has cut all ties with her.
In the years following 9/11, Darwish felt her life story gave her a unique perspective on events.
She was approached by an agent and has since written three books that discuss her ideological journey from Egypt to the United States, the global implications of Islamic law and the threat posed by the recent Arab uprisings.
“The Devil We Don’t Know: The Dark Side of Revolutions in the Middle East,” will be released Tuesday and is the topic of her talk at the Capitol Hill Club.
“I’m predicting a lot of internal and civil unrest,” Darwish said. “As long as Islam is practiced the way it is, we will never have freedom and democracy.”
Western democracies, she said, are averting their eyes from catastrophe.
“Western media as a whole is truly sticking their heads in the sand because they are really truly afraid of exposing Islam,” Darwish said.