Heroine: a woman having the qualities of a hero; a woman admired and emulated for her achievements and qualities; the central female figure in an event or period.
For her courage to speak the truth, and risking her safety to do so, Noni Darwish is our Heroine of the Month for September 2011, the 10th Anniversary of 9/11.
Born in Cairo, Egypt, Darwish moved to Gaza in the 1950s when her father, Lt. General Mustafa Hafez, was sent by Gamal Abdel Nasser to serve as commander of the Egyptian Army Intelligence in Gaza. In July 1956 when Nonie was eight years old, her father became the first targeted assassination carried out by the Israeli Defense Forces in response to attacks, making him a shahid. During his speech announcing the nationalization of the Suez Canal, Nasser vowed that all of Egypt would take revenge for Hafez’s death. Nasser asked Nonie and her siblings, “Which one of you will avenge your father’s death by killing Jews?”
Darwish explains: “I always blamed Israel for my father’s death, because that’s what I was taught. I never looked at why Israel killed my father. When I was growing up, we had to recite poetry pledging jihad against Israel. We would have tears in our eyes, pledging that we wanted to die. I speak to people who think there was no terrorism against Israel before the ’67 war. How can they deny it? My father died in it.”
After his death, her family moved to Cairo, where she attended Catholic high school and then the American University in Cairo, earning a BA in Sociology/Anthropology. She then worked as an editor and translator for the Middle East News Agency, until emigrating to the United States in 1978 with her husband, ultimately receiving United States citizenship. After arriving in the US, she became a Christian and began attending a non-denominational evangelical church. About a year after the September 11, 2001 attacks, Darwish began writing columns critical of Islamic extremism and the silence of moderate Muslims. “After 9/11 very few Americans of Arab and Muslim origin spoke out and from my experience it took us a long time to get noticed by Western media. Western media still regards Muslim organizations such as CAIR as representative of moderate Muslims in America. This is not the case. Muslim groups in the U.S. try to silence us and intimidate American campuses who invite us to speak. I often tell Muslim students that Arab Americans who are speaking out against terrorism are not the problem, it’s the terrorists who are giving Islam a bad name. And what the West must do is ask the politically incorrect questions and we Americans of Arab and Muslim origin owe them honest answers.”
Darwish’s ARABS FOR ISRAEL website describes itself as an organization of Arabs and Muslims who “respect and support the State of Israel”, welcome a “peaceful and diverse Middle East”, reject “suicide/homicide terrorism as a form of Jihad”, and promote “constructive self-criticism and reform” in the Arab/Muslim world.