Authors: Nonie Darwish
Because of that, Muslims in general are not aware of or do not care about the obsessive cursing and condemning of non-Muslims in Muslim books and culture. In my Muslim days, I used to listen to the weekly Friday sermons in which our religious leaders cursed the Jews and the Christians in the most cruel and vicious ways, but it never occurred to me or anyone around me or in the media that this hurt others. Christians and Jews heard these insults from the pulpits of mosques but could never protest publicly. One reason was that the Muslim public did not do anything to stop it.
We were never taught to put ourselves in the shoes of non-Muslims to imagine how they feel when they hear and read derogatory descriptions about them in our holy books. I never remember anyone defending the rights and the humanity of non-Muslims; the focus was always on the rights and the viewpoint of Muslims. Only later in life, specifically after I moved to the United States, did I start to realize how bad and unjust this was. That is when I started to speak about it, but the response I got from Muslims was not positive. It was in America, when I befriended Egyptian Jews and Christians who finally felt safe enough to talk about the torment they experienced when mosque microphones blared weekly curses at them, that I clearly saw their perspective. I was happy to hear one Muslim intellectual finally speak against the Islamic cursing of non-Muslims in a program on Arab TV about Islamophobia. Hopefully, such new ideas will start to trickle down to the Arab street and to Islamic preachers.
The Duty of Protecting Mohammed's Honor
Since its inception, Islam has suffered from a lack of self-confidence, a credibility problem. That is obvious if one reads the Koran's obsessive condemnation of those who rejected Mohammed, a man who was extremely sensitive to criticism. In the last thirteen years of his life, Mohammed tortured many people and committed merciless atrocities—killings, beheadings—against anyone who criticized or rejected him, including poets who mocked him, and Jewish tribes, as well as Arab tribes, who refused to convert to Islam. Islamic law, which was built on Muslim scriptures and the example of Mohammed, harshly punishes any criticism of Islam, and the penalty for criticizing Mohammed is especially harsh: the death penalty. These are called blasphemy laws.
Today, in a Pakistani jail, a Christian woman, the mother of five, is awaiting execution because of claims that she insulted Islam. The people who reported her to the authorities were Muslim neighbors who claimed that they heard her insult Islam, even though she has denied it. That is an example of how Islam destroys trust in one's relationships with family, friends, and neighbors, any one of whom might hand a person over to the authorities, knowing they will torture and kill people who violate blasphemy laws. That Mohammed's honor must be protected to such an extreme level is a sign that Islam cannot stand up to scrutiny. Because of its fragile self-confidence, Islam has sacrificed trust and spontaneous relationships among citizens. This is not the dignified image that all religions should project.
Muslims have inherited and internalized the tormented soul of their prophet. The more they act to silence criticism, the less they project confidence in the legitimacy of their religion to the outside world, which is what they desperately strive for. Violence is an act of desperation, and the more they use it, the more they dig themselves into a deeper hole, setting off yet another cycle of shame and guilt that they must cover up, and the cycle never ends. Because self-criticism and a debate about Islamic doctrine are not allowed, Muslims tend to be in a constant state of scrambling to cover up shortcomings, while exaggerating the faults of others. As a result, a good portion of Muslim political system, media, and preaching is dedicated to obsessive self-defense, while harshly blaming and mocking others.
After centuries of life in the Islamic mental prison, nurtured by its value system, Muslims finally find themselves facing a new shrinking world where no religion or ideology is beyond scrutiny, especially after 9/11, the loud jihadist cry on U.S. soil that exposed Islam's goals. Here the commandment to lie came in handy, when Muslims told the world that Islam had nothing to do with it and that terrorists have hijacked the religion, a denial that many in the West believed. This game must be played to ensure that the West remains confused about the true goals of Islam.
After 9/11, Muslims were suddenly caught naked in the center of the public square. The true nature of the religion they must protect from exposure with their lives is now under the microscope, and they do not like it a bit. For centuries, Islam has survived by perpetuating an image that is very different from the reality of Islam's documented history and what is in its books. The tragedy of 9/11 has been a blessing in bringing out the truth about Islam's goals toward the world. Sheikhs, who were accustomed never to being challenged in Muslim countries, are now asked on American television: “What does jihad mean?” They project a rigid, deceptive, and condescending demeanor and an inability to debate or respect the opinions of others. When they lose arguments, they resort to spin, lies, slander, and exaggeration and, if that does not work, yelling, name calling, and abandoning the discussion. Their Islamic education deprived them of a chance to learn much about other religions and sciences, and that can easily be detected when they engage in debate with pastors or rabbis who are usually highly educated in diverse fields.
The true power of the sheiks is not in their piety or holiness, but in their dreaded death warrant (the fatwa of death), which they usually delegate to some Islamist group that threatens people who defy, expose, or criticize Islam. Fatwas today are being issued against Westerners, among them cartoonists, politicians, or intellectuals who expose Islam. If you question the ordinary Muslim about those who issue fatwas, the answer is that these are simply radicals who do not represent true Islam, and many Muslims think that is all the explanation that's needed.
The more I learn about my religion of origin, the more I feel sorry for the poor Muslim individual who has to live a warped existence to survive all of the assaults on his humanity, freedom, intelligence, and happiness, for the sake of the glory and expansion of a political totalitarian ideology that is partly a religion. It is sad for me to see Islamic religious leaders, groups, and politicians be accused of promoting or being accessories to terror. Many Muslims in the West openly support Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Muslim Brotherhood and even sympathized with Osama bin Laden. Such terror groups could not be that widespread and effective without the financial support and blessing of many Muslim leaders. Many Muslims in the West are scrambling to save face, while calling those who question terrorism Islamophobes.
Such pressure has led a huge number of Muslims to be non-practicing or merely cultural Muslims. Behind the scenes and for the first time in modern Islamic history, we are also witnessing a new phenomenon. Many Muslims have found peace in leaving Islam altogether, some in secrecy, while others announce it publicly. Most of those who did it publicly live in the West, myself included, but miraculously, a few brave souls have left Islam and challenged the system from within the Muslim world.
Without America's freedom, I could never have survived or been reborn through discovering the truth that is hiding in plain sight for all Muslims to see. That truth is glaring at all Muslims, but few dare see it. The discovery process was long and hard for me. It cost me my relationship with my family in Egypt, who cut their ties with me completely, not only because I left Islam, but, more important, because I have come to love the Jewish people and support the State of Israel. That strikes at the heart of Islam's fears. The ultimate act of apostasy in Islam is when a Muslim starts to regard Jews as equally human and worthy of love and decides that their culture, their Jerusalem, and their small nation deserve to be preserved. That constitutes the ultimate crime against Islam.
A few years ago, as I was riding in a car with a friend, I could not help but listen to the words of a song she was playing: “I'm trading my sorrows/I'm trading my shame/I'm laying them down, for the joy of the Lord.” After listening to that song, I learned that a religion should not burden us with shame, pride, and fear, but should liberate us and set us free. I went home and looked at my Egyptian passport, which was stamped “Muslim” by the Egyptian government, the same stamp as on my birth certificate, my student ID, and the government ID that I brought with me from Egypt long ago. I realized that being a Muslim was not a relationship with a god, but a relationship with the state, a relationship of slave to master. Abandoning Islam is illegal in all Muslim countries, including Egypt. That is the characteristic of a religion that is afraid of the truth. The truth is Islam's number one enemy. I placed those documents back in the old box where I kept them and closed that chapter of my life forever.
It was not only the religious side of the song that captured my attention, but the idea of how a religion can free people from shame, sin, pain, and sorrow. What a difference that is from my religion of origin, where shame, sin, sorrow, pain, and sickness are all to be endured for the purpose of expanding and protecting Islam. While Muslims are all
, meaning “slaves of Allah,” Christians are children of God. In Christianity, Jesus came to save humanity, but in Islam, it is Islam's followers who must save Islam. Jesus came to die on the cross to forgive the sins of man; in Islam, Muslims must die for the sake of Allah. In Christianity, we are taught, “We are all sinners,” while Islam says, “They [non-Muslims] are all sinners.” Christians bless all of humanity; Muslims curse non-Muslims. Vengeance is only God's in Christianity, but vengeance is prescribed for Muslims. Anger and envy are deadly sins in Christianity, but in Islam anger is promoted and envy is described as a curse that a Muslim must guard himself from. Islam violates practically all of the Ten Commandments, in one way or another. This might seem to be a promotion for the Judeo/Christian culture, but that is not my intent in making the comparison. The point I want to make is not a religious one, but rather how one religion can bring comfort, peace, harmony, and stability and another can be a source of the destructive force of anger, incitement, and violence.
I was finally able to open that mysterious black box I was born in, which is Islam. America gave me the key. It is now my right to examine what I was worshipping. The contents are dark, rotten, and a cover-up of unspeakable proportions. Muslims are all slaves, not to Allah, but they were enslaved to heal the pain of a tortured man, riddled with fear, guilt, and a hatred of abandonment. After Mohammed's death, Muslims had to continue his mission in blind obeisance: punishing themselves, their families, their children, and society just for the sake of destroying Mohammed's eternal enemies who dared to reject or mock him. His vengeance became the vengeance of all Muslims and his wars theirs to wage for fourteen hundred years, up until the present. Muslims have never figured out this madness, which has led to a tortured existence that has hurt and destroyed millions in jihad, not only in the Middle East, but also around the world. I was worshipping a meaningless sacred black stone that ate away at my mind, my soul, and my compassion toward fellow human beings whose only fault was being non-Muslim.
Islam fails the Muslim individual and leaves him in constant turmoil and lack of peace. While several former Third World countries, such as South Korea, Taiwan, and India, have been able to elevate themselves, progress, flourish, and achieve successful democracies, we find the Muslim world still struggling for economic survival and political stability. This drama of Islam's failed responsibility to the individual stands in the way of the Muslim developing the moral foundation that is essential to produce a healthy mind, society, and political system.
Having failed the individual, Islam has held back the Islamic mind and deprived it of growth in every area beyond vengeance, anger, paranoia, and hatred. Thus, it is inconceivable for Muslims to move beyond Jew hatred or into accepting coexistence with Israel. To the Muslim mind, accepting Jews is equal to treason against Islam and Mohammed. Why is that? The next chapter deals with why the Arab-Israeli conflict is actually an Islamic-Jewish conflict and what Israel's fears are amid the current revolutions.
Israel amid Islamic Tornadoes
The situation in the region surrounding Israel has long been explosive and volatile, and the recent uprisings, chaos, and revolutions have made it more so. Revolutions are by nature impulsive, and the future leadership in many Middle Eastern nations is moving toward sharia and radical Islam. Add in the threat posed by a radicalized Turkey, as well as the Iranian threat, and the volatile mix intensifies. Never before in the history of the world have more than fifty countries ganged up against a tiny state such as Israel.
The Arab-Israeli conflict has gradually evolved into an Islamic-Jewish conflict; it no longer involves only Israel and the surrounding Arab countries: Syria, Jordan, and Egypt. Even Lebanon, which decades ago had a Christian majority and kept the peace on its borders with Israel, turned against Israel after a civil war after which the majority in Lebanon became Muslim. That was when Lebanon joined the Arab jihad against Israel. In recent years, non-Arab Islamic countries that traditionally had stayed uninvolved in the Israel-Palestine issue have moved toward a policy of confrontation with Israel. As a result, Israel's circle of hostility has now enlarged to include countries such as Iran and Turkey. The only thing that can comfort Israel is the fact that Arab and Muslim nations, which are eager to destroy Israel, are experiencing internal turmoil themselves.
The Egyptian revolution is moving in the direction of revoking Egypt's peace treaty with Israel. This trend reflects the majority opinion of the Egyptian public, as well as the will of all of the Islamist groups in the area who believed that many Arab leaders had accepted Israel. On April 25, 2011, a Pew survey found that 54 percent of Egyptians said their country should annul the peace treaty with Israel.
Events following the revolution stoked the anti-Israel sentiments. Just a few days after Mubarak stepped down, the Egyptian sheikh Qaradawi, considered Islam's leading Sunni cleric, returned to Egypt. He had been in self-imposed exile since 1961, after being imprisoned several times, first by King Farouk in 1949, then three times by President Gamal Abdel Nasser. On February 18, 2011, he held a Friday prayer in Tahrir Square that was more of a huge victory rally, attended by two million people. He commanded his followers to march on Jerusalem to reclaim it for Islam.
On Friday, May 13, 2011, in another massive rally in the same square, Egyptians protested the establishment of the state of Israel that occurred on May 15, 1948. Such a protest had never taken place before in Egypt on such a scale. The crowds called on the interim rulers to end ties with Israel and threatened them with more massive protests if their demands were not met.
Even some so-called moderate leaders expressed eagerness for a confrontation with Israel. Ayman Noor, an influential opposition leader, has recently called for the peace treaty with Israel to be “reassessed.” In May 2008 a well-known Egyptian blogger wrote,
We—the majority of us anyway—don't want peace with Israel, and are not interested in any real dialogue with them. We weren't then and we are not now. The entire peace process has always been about getting the land back, not establishing better relations. Even when we do get the land back, it's not enough. People in Egypt lament daily the Camp David treaty that prevents us from fighting.
Years after the 1967 Egyptian defeat, Egyptians seem to have forgotten the horrific price they paid after years of violence and wars against Israel. They seem to have forgotten their desperation and the bread riots and the food shortages after each war when they tried to get the Sinai back. Now, after Israel returned their land simply for a promise of peace, it is almost unbelievable to see that Egyptians are itching for another confrontation with Israel. Why do they believe they have a right to conquer Jerusalem? It was never part of Egypt and was never mentioned in the Koran. They got the Sinai back. Why would Egyptians distract themselves with this controversy over Israel when much needs to be done to improve their economy and bring about a democratic system? Engaging in an outside conflict or even a conflict with their Christian minority should be the last thing on Egyptians' minds. Yet that is not how the jihad culture has programmed people to think.
Islamic culture plays a continuous jihad/victimization game with the Muslim mind. That is why the likes of Qaradawi and other Islamists are inundating Egyptians with propaganda about jihad, day in and day out. Jihad is what the Islamic sense of pride, power, glory, and manhood is derived from. Egyptians are not wired to cooperate, trust one another, and dedicate themselves to the hard work of building their nation, taking care of their families, and saving their country from the rot of jihadism.
Egyptians and Arabs in general have a tendency to speak more than they act and to bite off more than they can chew. They seem to be itching for a confrontation with Israel, while the Egyptian political situation is in limbo, sectarian violence against Christians is at its peak, and the economy in shambles. Clearly, Egyptians seem to have forgotten their decades of pain and suffering and the wars with Israel, but, then, when have Egyptians ever liked to learn from their very long history?
Arab leaders who are friendly to the West and who abide by a peace treaty with Israel cannot fulfill Islamic goals. That is why the leaders of Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen were the first to go. Hosni Mubarak was hated for maintaining ties with both the United States and Israel. For that, he was called a puppet of the CIA and Mossad. The current government of Egypt must either choose peace and be at odds with the people and Islamist groups or choose war and be at odds with the world of reason and perhaps once again lead the nation into disaster.
Right before the uprisings in late 2010, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Badie, expressed his view that “waging jihad is mandatory.” In this sermon, he stated that Arab governments that stand in the way of jihad against Israel and the United States are traitors. The following are not the words of Osama bin Laden, but of Badie, whose populist group now controls the Egyptian parliament and the presidency as well:
Arab and Muslim regimes are betraying their people by failing to confront the Muslim's real enemies, not only Israel but also the United States. Waging jihad against both of these infidels is a commandment of Allah that cannot be disregarded. Governments have no right to stop their people from fighting the United States. “They are disregarding Allah's commandment to wage jihad for His sake with [their] money and [their] lives, so that Allah's word will reign supreme” over all non-Muslims.
The new Egyptian administration is finding it even harder to govern than the Mubarak administration did, because the atmosphere is out of control. The reason is that since the revolution, expectations have become unrealistically high, and many conflicting parties and views are emerging, which might be good in the long run for forming solid political parties, but in the short run, the result is chaos.
After the revolution, an Egyptian comedian joked that each Tahrir Square protestor was about to form his own political party. Soon afterward, an established Egyptian newspaper,
, reported that a group of Egyptians intended to establish an Egyptian Nazi party founded by Emad Abdel Sattar.
Could Islam follow in the footsteps of the Nazi regime's rapid expansion, only to succumb to an equally rapid and total defeat? Only time will tell. Another group has been formed that is demanding the return of the Egyptian monarchy under the son of King Farouk Ahmed Fuad II, who has been living in France since he was a child.
Egyptians feel a sense of loss and are searching for their identity, something to hold onto as they decide their future. They should not even consider a confrontation with Israel if Egypt is to recover and improve, but apparently that kind of wisdom is not in Arab/Islamic genes.
Instead, the revolution is paving the way to war, not to democracy. Young democracy lovers may have celebrated over the Muslim Brotherhood's promise to create a free and democratic Egypt, but that will never happen as long as Islamism is the predominant ideology in the region. Islam simply won't allow it, and the Muslim Brotherhood knows it.
The military interim government, which allied itself with the Muslim Brotherhood, quickly became pro-Hamas, pro-Iran, and anti-Israel. The goals of Islamic governments must inevitably match the goals of the people. This should be no surprise. A poll conducted by the University of Maryland in April 2007, WorldPublicOpinion.org, found that “large majorities (of Muslims) approve of many of al Qaeda's principal goals. Large majorities in all countries (average 70 percent or higher) support such goals as: stand up to Americans and affirm the dignity of the Islamic people, push the US to remove its bases and its military forces from all Muslim countries, and pressure the United States to not favor Israel.”
The survey also stated, “Equally large majorities agree with goals that involve expanding the role of Islam in their society. On average, about three out of four agree with seeking to require Islamic countries to impose a strict application of Sharia, and to keep Western values out of Islamic countries. Two-thirds would even like to unify all Islamic countries into a single Islamic state or caliphate.”
Throughout the Middle East, from groups such as al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, Hizbuttahrir and the Muslim Brotherhood to Arab socialists and nationalist Nasserites, the goal is the same: a confrontation with Western governments, especially Israel and the United States. Throughout the Muslim world, it is a deep-rooted belief that without this confrontation, the ultimate goal—the Islamic Ummah—will not be achieved. And just as with Mohammed's example in the seventh century, anything goes in their efforts to achieve such a goal.
The prospect of a huge loss of Egyptian lives does not worry Muslim leaders. Human life is cheap in Egypt, as it is in other societies that are unable to feed their swelling populations because of dysfunctional economies. A live peasant serves as cannon fodder; a dead one is one less mouth to feed. In addition, citizens have been trained to believe in their obligation to wage jihad. As a result, they developed a macho attitude, and they never object to waging offensive wars.
Yet none of this makes sense. Renewing a hatred of Israel is counterproductive to economic progress. Peace with Israel in the last thirty years has contributed to the stability, economic growth, and well-being of both Egypt and Israel. Are Egyptians ready to throw all of that away? Unfortunately, Egyptians have made this mistake over and over. Egyptians and the other postrevolution Islamic countries seem ready to cut off their noses to spite their faces, as the expression goes, in their self-destructive overreaction to their current problems.
It is hard for a Westerner to believe that Egypt, with all of its terrible economic and political troubles, is again calling Israel its enemy. In the presidential election, many of the nominees recklessly called for the revocation of the peace treaty with Israel. Yet this is not surprising for those who understand the Islamist's deep fears and have over time seen that Egypt and Arabs in general never miss a chance to act so foolishly. The only difference between now and the past is that in previous wars the Egyptian army was trained by the Soviet Union, and in the last three decades it has been trained by the United States, a fact that might come back to bite us.
Islam has always concentrated on expanding its influence toward the outside world, more than it has on internal development. Expanding its power through intimidation, fear, and even terror counts for more than the strength that would accumulate from focusing on achievement, building admiration, and winning the hearts and minds of its followers. Islam really does not know how to break that cycle. Perhaps that is why the confused and disappointed Muslim protesters are still gathering regularly to protest in Tahrir Square. Yet now, with the international media gone, many are quietly being arrested. One video clip of protests in Cairo in late spring 2011 showed a woman holding a picture of Mubarak, kissing it, and saying, “We are sorry.” There is noticeable regret, with the nation in shock after failing to predict the power of Islamism and clarify their own confusion about what they really want.
It is thus reasonable to expect that the revolutions will produce radical anti-American regimes that will seek a confrontation with Israel. We can also assume that Israel is getting ready for the new challenge. The chaos is already spilling into Israel and will increase if Hamas gets bolder and resumes attacking Israel with rockets. Provoking Israel will naturally compel Israel to protect itself militarily, and that could bring Egypt into the equation. I don't believe that I am being an alarmist, but many Egyptians have said that they will not stand by silently if Gaza is attacked.
The primary reason for the revolutions on Arab streets was to improve people's lives, as well as the economic, social, and political systems. Yet that is not the priority of the Islamists, who want to use the revolutions to form a unified Islamist front to confront Israel and the West, paving the way for the Ummah. In that regard, Islamists are in conflict with their people's priorities and their basic need to prosper. It is true that sentiments in the Arab world are anti-Israel, but the pressing discontent of the masses is, first and foremost, economic and political. If the new radical anti-American regimes use their countries' resources for military purposes, wars, and conflicts, then the Islamic states will embark on a slippery slope of bloody confrontations, instead of the Islamist utopia of the Ummah.
It would be catastrophic for Arabs, more than for Israel, if the new Islamic leaderships rush to drag Israel into wars and conflict. The reason there is a good possibility for a conflict is that, rightly or wrongly, the Muslim Brotherhood is under the impression that they have their man in the White House, an opportunity that might be short-lived. Because Obama's reelection is not guaranteed, the Islamists will probably ignore their people's priorities and opt for an attack on Israel before the end of Obama's first term, while the opportunity lasts. I would not be surprised to see an all-out war against Israel in the summer of 2012. Israel should be ready. This time, however, if Israel is forced into a confrontation and takes the Sinai again, the Israelis should never return it.