Written By: Molly Hodges
“Peace was never an option. We never talked about peace.” Ms. Nonie Darwish stirred the audience with vivid memories about her life under Sharia Law. Ms. Darwish is an Egyptian-American, author, and survivor of an oppression in the Middle East. Her personal story is nothing short of amazing. Nonie Darwish, who has shared her story in front of European Parliament, the British House of Lords and at Oxford University, came with the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute to share her experiences to students on my campus. My University of Florida Network of enlightened Women Chapter was honored to promote the lecture, provide food and refreshments for attendees and, of course, recruit inspiring and empowered women for our growing NeW chapter last Thursday! It was such an incredible opportunity to join students in hearing Darwish’s story of resilience in person.
Darwish began her talk with a recollection of her early childhood and attitude towards Israel. She attended elementary school in Gaza, where she learned “hatred, vengeance, retaliation, and that war [is] what we aspire for”. These teachings, Darwish explains, were coupled with the grooming of children to become jihadis against the “criminal Jews”. Her father, a Colonel in the Egyptian Army was responsible for the death of many Israelis, many of which were citizens. When the Israeli Defense Forces killed her father in 1956, Darwish says she and her siblings were urged by leaders to ‘avenge’ her father’s death by killing Jews. Her hatred of Israelis had peaked.
Everything changed after she emigrated to the United States with her husband in 1978. As a Muslim, Ms. Darwish explained her initial fears of discrimination in America, but found the atmosphere much different than she had expected. Darwish recalled one instance in which she attended a religious service with a Jewish friend in the US. Her life was changed that day. She was amazed by the way the Jews prayed at the temple: “They prayed for the whole world”, she continued, “They had no human enemies.” Darwish was left speechless by this concept of loving one’s enemies. It was this revolutionary type of love espoused in the Bible that led to her conversion to Christianity soon after.
Darwish’s critique of the treatment of women in the Middle East was particularly rousing. She explained that in her home country, the only women who ever received any form of public praise were the wives and daughters of jihadis. This indirect connection to the death of Jews and Christians is the only way for women to ‘achieve’ and gain positive notoriety in radical Islamic culture. Darwish also continued to explain the shocking limit on women’s rights in her home country. In marriage, women are obligated to pledge loyalty to their husbands, she says, but husbands are under no such obligation. Darwish says it is legal and common for husbands to have multiple wives. In addition, she noted the lack of legal protection for women facing violence in the Middle East. Darwish explained that if a woman facing domestic abuse in the Middle East calls the police for help, they only “laugh and hang up on her”. The imagery Darwish provided created a stark contrast between the oppressed lives of women living under Sharia Law, and the freedoms women have in America.
Darwish closed her speech on a positive and encouraging note. She expressed that her love is extended to all people, and that this is because of her Christianity. Darwish said: “Love your enemies. I think this principle… is the most revolutionary in history”, she continued “This is Godly, this did not come from a human being”. Following this, Darwish discussed how thankful she is to live in the United States. She repeatedly shared what a privilege it is to watch women have the opportunity and guaranteed freedoms to succeed. Her message was simply to love and stand up for the rights of all people, no matter what the consequences may be.