Speaker presses for peace in the Mideast | AspenTimes.com

Speaker presses for peace in the Mideast

Greg Schreier

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Nonie Darwish has her own ideas of how to achieve peace in the troubled Middle East.

Her father founded the modern Fedayeen, or armed resistance against Israel, in the 1950s. But she does not wish to follow in his footsteps, taking a pro-Israel stance instead.

Growing up in Cairo, Egypt, in the 1950s and ’60s, and spending time in the Gaza Strip during that period, Darwish grew tired of seeing the violence. And she didn’t fault Israel ” that’s the message she brought to a packed Paepcke Auditorium on Monday night.

“I started speaking after 9/11 in honor of 3,000 fellow Americans who perished that day,” Darwish said. “[Terrorism] is destroying the moral fabric I know exists in Arab culture.”

United Jewish Appeal and the Aspen Jewish Congregation sponsored the event ” leading one audience member to ask Darwish if she was “speaking a bit to the choir.”

But Darwish said her message that the Arab world must change reaches beyond Aspen. She is the author of many articles encouraging moderate Muslims to reclaim their faith from extremists and end terrorism ” articles she says circulate throughout the Arab world. But disseminating that message can be challenging.

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“It’s very difficult to reach the Arab street,” Darwish said.

She also speaks at various college campuses, including Columbia University. There she is met with both applause and vocal resistance from Arabs and non-Arabs alike.

“They shout ‘traitor,’ ‘shame on you,’ stuff like that,” Darwish said.

She criticized Muslims in America and the Arab world for not taking a firm enough stand in promoting peace, and also criticizing Muslims for not supporting Israel’s right to exist as a state.

“As a Muslim-Arab child, was I taught peace?” Darwish said. “The answer is no … Peace was never an option. It was a sign of defeat and weakness.”

Changing the problems Darwish sees will not come easily; it will take more than simply changing a policy. Altering a cultural mind-set and changing basic principles even in Arab textbooks will take years.

“It took me many years to change, and it was not easy,” Darwish said.

Darwish draws from numerous personal experiences to make her case for Israel. She told of the Israeli commandos who stormed her home in Gaza looking for her father. When they found only her, her siblings and their mother, the commandos left them unharmed.

She related the stroke her brother suffered when she saw that the distrust of Jews and Israel runs only skin-deep for many people. He was taken from Gaza to Israel ” not Egypt or another Arab nation ” for the treatment that saved his life.

“In times of crisis, Arabs trust Jews,” Darwish said.

But change cannot be imposed from without, but must be effected from within. Those “moderate Muslims” who Darwish said dare to speak out are her hope for peace.

“Terrorists are not the underdog. They are brainwashed killers,” Darwish said. It is the moderate Muslims who promote peace and democracy who are the underdogs ” and she says they deserve support.

“They are the real freedom fighters.”

Greg Schreier’s e-mail address is gschreier@aspentimes.com.

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