Thursday, May 31, 2007

Brave Arab-American Woman Speaks Out

It takes a special kind of person to look reflectively within, love one's people, and still have the courage to speak out against their transgressions. And this is not armchair bravery. Nonie Darwish's is done at great personal risk, ostracism, and condemnation from many in her community.

Nonie encourages all who value freedom to stand alongside her in the struggle for women's rights, minority rights, and universal human rights in countries around the globe.

"Though the Middle East is a complex region with many ancient variables, customs, differences and animosities, we must apply a universal concept of human rights, women's rights and minority rights to all countries on the globe -- with no exceptions for any religion or ideology.Those Americans who stood up for these rights in the '60s -- and still do today -- are the natural allies of moderate Muslims in our struggle against Middle East religious and political tyranny. Stand with us now."

Nonie Darwish is the author of Now They Call Me Infidel. She founded Arabs for Israel, an organization of Arabs and Muslims who reject terrorism and promote constructive self-criticism and reform.

We are indeed fortunate to have her voice and to be able count her as a friend.

David Brumer


U.S. women can help Arab feminists

As a teenager in Cairo in the mid-1960s, I watched with admiration those Americans who stood up for progress, minority rights, civil rights and women's rights, and who fought against extreme and archaic values. You became role models for me. I passionately followed your causes.
Now I need your help and support in a different cause: the struggle of Arab feminists, progressives and reformers for equal rights and individual freedom in Muslim countries, especially for women.
American women TV reporters have taken to wearing head covers in moderate Arab countries that do not enforce Islamic attire. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi wore a scarf in secular, Baathist Syria. By complying with the practices that radical Muslims force on women even in secular Muslim countries, those American women unknowingly undermine the cause of Arab feminists and can even be seen as lending tacit support to radicals. They need to understand better the culture in which they are operating.
Many Muslim women refuse to wear the Islamic head cover because they never did so in the majority of Muslim countries, where this practice was never enforced. But the radical Muslims are trying to intimidate Muslim women to cover themselves. Incidents of acid thrown in the faces of girls who do not wear head covers have been documented. All the women in my family in Egypt, myself included, have never worn the Islamic head cover.
I lived for 30 years in oppressive dictatorships and police states where most of the women around me had undergone the horrific procedure of clitoridectomy. Many more had to make peace with their inferior status.
Like most immigrants, I came to America, in 1978, to escape tyranny and enjoy freedom. I anguished as I looked the other way when I saw the suffering of my people on TV. I heard of death threats and intimidation against Arab feminists and reformers, including Ghada Jamsheer from Bahrain, Nawal El Saadawi from Egypt and even the late Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, who was stabbed in Cairo in 1994 by a radical Muslim. I was thankful to be living in America.
But I can no longer look the other way. A group of moderate Muslim women has decided, from the relative safety of America, to stand up for change in the Muslim world. Our goals are:
To achieve equal rights for Muslim women and minorities living in Muslim countries.
To assure freedom of religion, speech and the press.
To establish separation of mosque and state.
To end hate speech in the schools, mosques and government-sponsored media.
To realize peace with Israel.
As a reformist of Arab-Muslim origin, it hurts me to see some well-meaning Americans sympathize with and appease the oppressive radicals of my culture. Islamists do not represent the hope and future of the Middle East, but the oppressive past.
We modern-day Arab-American moderate women now turn to the type of Americans I admired as a teenager in Cairo for experience, help and support. We are this decade's freedom fighters.
It would be easier for us to ignore the old country; to blame conditions in our homeland on outside factors, historical injustices or last century's imperialism. But those who want real change don't look away or blame others; they take on the challenge and responsibility of implementing change.

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