Wednesday, October 24, 2007

False Idols: Nonie Darwish Speaks for Islamo-Facism Awareness Week

In case you haven’t heard, it’s Islamo-Facism awareness week: David Horowitz and some other conservatives have decided that they’re going to pretend to take on the cause of the “poor, defenseless Muslim woman.” What garbage!

On Monday, Nonie Darwish (pictured here on the cover of her book) spoke at Wellesley College. Darwish is the founder of Arabs for Israel, and was a guest of Wellesley’s Jewish Hillel group. She was interviewed by Phyllis Chesler for Chesler’s blog, and the resulting article is ridiculously biased, painting Darwish as some type of blameless saint, bullied by the evil Muslim girls on Wellesley’s campus. Perhaps the title can illustrate my point: “The Heroic Nonie Darwish Faces Muslim ‘Mean Girl’ Power at Wellesley.”

The article, which I will critique fully in a minute, describes Darwish’s “heroic” speech, the “hostile” groups of Muslim women wearing headscarves that attended, and these same women’s “goon squad” behavior.

Now, sisters, I’ve got to say something here. If Ms. Darwish is correct, and some of the women were making faces and causing disruptions, then this is not cool. Ms. Darwish has a right to believe whatever she believes and speak as an invited guest, and it shows poor character to go to her lecture just to be a douchebag (plus, it makes Muslims look bad). If you don’t agree with her, don’t go to the lecture! Write an editorial to the school paper about how Islamo-Facism Awareness Week is bigoted instead. Or organize a countering “Islam Awareness Week” that has positive lectures about Islam and fun stuff to do—this is a lot more effective than disrupting a lecture. Or, go to the lecture, behave respectfully while taking notes, and then write a measured rebuttal for the school paper or a magazine.

Now, to the article. Chesler’s bias drips through the lines. She writes about Darwish’s lecture and paints the Muslim attendees as intimidating gangsters, and Darwish agrees with her: “They [the Muslim girls] quadruple-teamed Darwish and did not stop until Darwish ended her lecture. Twenty to thirty minutes of soft-core, well-choreographed, goon squad behavior. ‘They are Hamas-trained,’ says Darwish.” Hamas-trained? So because a bunch of people leave the lecture for whatever reason, they’re Hamas-trained? Ridiculous.

Just in case Chesler’s readers don’t get the point, Chesler exaggerates the idea that these Muslim women present a threat: Darwish says that the Jewish students were cringing, afraid “that the Muslims might physically hurt them afterwards. According to Darwish, one Jewish student told her that she ‘was locking her door. I am scared’).” Really? So because some Muslim students left the lecture, these students think that they’re going to get physically harmed? Do they think that the Muslim students left the lecture to go look up the Jewish students’ addresses and then stalk them for listening to Darwish’s lecture? Really?

I’m not disagreeing with the face that Hillel invited her, that she spoke, or that many in the Muslim community disagree with what she’s saying. I’m disagreeing with the negative portrait that Chesler paints of Muslim women. Calling us gangsters and implying that we’re going to hurt people who disagree with us? Please.

I’m also disagreeing with the fact that Ms. Chesler deifies Darwish as some sort of whistle-blower on Islam, without critiquing Darwish’s views or credentials. The article itself says that Darwish was born into a privileged military family in Egypt and now lives in America. Living in a privileged Egyptian family in the 1950s, 1960s, or 1970s gives someone a radically different perspective on Islam, Israel, and Egypt’s current political state. Egypt was very Westernized in these decades: Nasser and Sadat both clamped down very hard on religious institutions, alternately made war and peace with Israel, and Egyptian women rarely wore hejab back then. Growing up in that kind of Egypt could produce viewpoints that synchronize well with Western ideas about the Middle East and Islam.

So why is she a mouthpiece for Islamo-Facism awareness week? Perhaps it’s because she agrees with what they’re saying. Or perhaps it’s because Horowitz couldn’t book Ayaan Hirsi Ali to spew their organization’s Islamophobic crap. Either way, it the lecture provides us with an idea to how Islamo-Facism Awareness week will play out.