Rejecting Martyrdom
The daughter of an Arab warrior tells her tale
By Nonie Darwish
Danish translation: Afvisning af martyriet
Published on : March 28, 2012

I hope that my story will shed light on the truth in the Middle East to every American; especially to those who subscribe to the erroneous idea that U.S. policy in that region must have caused Islamic and Arab hatred of the West.

My father, who was not a Palestinian, was a very prominent military officer in the Middle East. (I will not mention the country for personal reasons.) His job was to mobilize Palestinian forces into Israeli territory and cause as much death and damage to Israel as possible. As a small child in the 50's, I remember the horror of being told not to take any candy or fruit from any stranger since it could have a bomb in it. Our house was surrounded with security; a couple of times our train trip was cancelled because the train tracks were bombed. I remember sleeping nights under the bed fearing the sound of bombs and explosions.

I remember going to a Palestinian preschool and kindergarten and the word "Jew" instilled terror and dread into the core of my very being. A Jewish person was portrayed like less than human, a dog, an evil alien from outer space who was about to destroy the world. Jews, they said, had no home because they were cursed by God and the main mission of Islam was to get rid of Jews.

As a small child I remember once, at a Palestinian school, asking "why?" The response was that I was a traitor for asking this question and would go to Hell, and for the rest of the day the girls in the school did not talk to me. The education was mainly political, teaching kids the hatred of Israel. Arabic poetry was recited daily, with tears in Palestinian children's eyes, on how Palestine was taken from them and how they will retaliate and even die to get it back.

In spite of this atmosphere, my own family which was not Palestinian, did not discuss this hatred. To my mother, and I think also to my father, whom I hardly remember, his job was his duty, nothing more and nothing less, and I don't think he really liked it. My mother said that he was getting sick of his job and was promised to leave his post and get transferred to a post that did not require living on the edge as he and all of us (his family) were.

Two weeks before leaving his post he was killed by the Israelis in retaliation.

My loving father died at age 35 and never saw his children grow, let alone his grandchildren. He was robbed of his life and for that I blame the Middle Eastern Islamic culture and the propaganda of hatred taught to children from birth.

Immediately after my father's death many people congratulated (!!!) us as the children of a hero and a shahid -- a martyr. I remember I spent many nights crying alone wishing he did not have a cause to die for and I resented the idea of martyrdom. It never made sense to my young mind then since, why should God want us to die for a cause when he gave us life?

I was told that my dad was in heaven now since he died as a martyr and schools and streets were named after him. I was shocked to know that almost 90% of streets in the Middle East are named after martyrs.

As I walked in my neighborhood I found street after street with men's names who gave their lives to martyrdom! What a disaster to many families and children, but we were taught only to be proud and retaliate! I dreamed my father would probably come back home from heaven since we needed him more than heaven.

In the funeral I saw men crying like children after his death since he was deeply loved by others too. My mother, after the funeral, was left in a severe depression from which she never truly recovered and my childhood, together with my siblings, was further ruined. We received a generous pension from the government, so my mother was able to send us to the best private schools. I was very lucky to go to a Catholic school run by Irish nuns.

After a short time, the people who had congratulated us were nowhere to be found, and my mother had very little emotional help. Being in the Middle East in the late 50's, it was very difficult for a woman to live without a husband. There is practically no social structure of support for widows. It is a very clan-like society. Your strength and social status comes only from your family and especially your male relatives.

Despite the crowded cities of the Middle East and close proximity of living conditions, the people seem friendly but are isolated from one another and believe in envy. There is strict ritual of behavior, but not genuine social cohesion. The culture is dominated by the idea that "I will be cursed by people who will envy me" to the point of paranoia. People have to keep their distance, sometimes even from their own family members, in defense from the Evil Eye. They always point out that "envy" was mentioned in the Koran. They never discussed envy as a sin that hurts the person who is envious, but as a curse that one has to be on guard against. They learn to keep all good news secret and wear blue beads to stop the Evil Eye.

All the good Moslems who were very proud of my dad stopped visiting after a few weeks. Maybe some women did not want us to envy them having husbands and fathers. The relationships among Moslem women were extremely competitive since, according to the Islamic law, husbands can have up to four wives, therefore visiting and being friendly with widowed women can be very threatening. Women actually could shun a beautiful young widow like my mother.

In the Middle East a woman's reputation is everything. Neighbors would watch every step of a woman leaving her house, what time she came home and who visited her. I remember my mother chastising and grounding me because a boy came to talk to me when I was waiting for her to pick me up from school. She said "don't you care about your reputation, having no father and a boy talking to you on the sidewalk?!" I can't blame her now since she was living in this tragedy herself.

The first day I attended my Catholic school, the nuns told my mother they were praying for her. The first day was very peaceful and I felt love among people for the first time in a long time. It was a different kind of love, a peaceful kind of love that wants nothing in return. Half the class was Moslem and we attended a class once a day to learn the Koran. The "Islam" teacher merely recited verses and spoke of Islamic history.

I constantly felt that the God of Islam was always angry at us and there was a constant threat of Hell. We never discussed love and a large amount of time was devoted to the wars of Mohammed and how he won most of them. He and his followers would engage in wars with other tribes from Mecca and kill and loot their caravans. They did that for 20 years until Mohamed won and Mecca surrendered. As a child, the stories scared me. I am very appreciative that my mother never insisted on us to practice Islam and she had no hatred toward other religions.

The Middle East culture deprived me of my father, and left me and my siblings helpless orphans, with no emotional support from a cruel social structure. I grew up with anger. My trust of people and sense of security were shattered and I learned to question anything and everything, starting with the Arab hatred of Jews. The Moslems' hatred of Christians came next after Jews. I guess there were too many Arab Christians and perhaps the idea was, take one at a time; get rid first of Jews, then Christians.

Christians were commonly called "Blue Bone." I never knew what that meant, but I do know that it meant something bad. When I grew up and finished college I could not stay in this society any longer. My love of life won and I refused to fall into the cycle of hate and live in a society with clashing contradictions. The culture that does not have enough value for life will not have value for people to get together to advance their economic and social condition. That is why most Middle East and Moslem countries are economic basket cases. Thank God a country called the United States opened its arms to people from all across the world, and I was honored to immigrate to the U.S. over 23 years ago and become a part of this great nation.

I could not adjust to a Middle East culture that doesn't value children's life enough, a culture that orphans its own children and is so obsessed with hatred of Jews that it's ready to sacrifice the morals and health of its family structure over a few miles of land and the city of Jerusalem, which is the holy land of Jews and Christians. Unfortunately, the current Islamic culture is in the process of committing moral suicide.

The United States set an example to the world on how different races and different religions can coexist with respect despite their differences. I wish Islam would show some grace and accept the Jewish people and the State of Israel. The Jewish people enrich the Middle East culture and tie us to the historical origin of the region. Can you believe what a tragedy it would be if all Jews in the Middle East left?

I sometimes daydream of a day in which the Moslems welcome and celebrate the Jewish existence in the Middle East and realize that the Jewish religion is not a threat to them and that it is the origin of both Christianity and Islam. Islam took a lot from Judaism and Christianity and perhaps is afraid of being exposed. Could that be why Moslems don't want to coexist with other religions?

A message to all Middle East women: it is in your hands to change your society. Stop being submissive in giving up your husbands and sons to martyrdom. What a tragedy when you celebrate the death of your suicide-bomber sons. Value their lives so they might value theirs and maybe they will respect you more.

I plead to the wives and daughters of "Shahid" to listen. The same people who will congratulate you on your beloved "Shahid" father or son are the same people who will criticize you as a loose woman when they see you leave your homes alone without a man to run your life. The people who encourage terrorists and Shahids are cruel and evil people that hide behind the Koran for the sake of attaining power and high office. They are ready to give up these men's lives and maybe throw a little money to the families. That might fool some as support, but wait -- in no time you will be alone in bringing up your kids and facing the difficulties of life alone in a merciless society that has no respect for single women. You will be without a husband and your children deprived of fathers growing up.

They are ready to sacrifice generation after generation of women widowed at a young age and children orphaned. For what?

Don't be fooled by the glory of being a martyr. I learned that the hard way, but thank God I triumphed. I could not have done it without living in freedom in the United States.

As a child, many asked me: "Are you going to avenge the killing of your father by killing Jews?"

My answer now as an adult is a firm "no." Instead, I will live to expose the dark side of the Moslem culture and Islamic fundamentalists.