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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.