Below we bring you some parts of an interview she did with FrontPagemag.com.
FP: Tell us some of the things you were taught as a child in the Arab Middle East.
Darwish: I was born and raised as a Muslim in Cairo, Egypt and the Gaza Strip. I attended Gaza elementary schools where I learned hatred, vengeance and retaliation. Peace was never as an option; it was considered a sign of defeat and weakness. Those who wanted peace and compromise were called traitors. Jews were described as monsters, apes and pigs and the enemies of God from the pulpits of mosques. When I asked: “why do we hate Jews?” The answer was: “aren’t you a Muslim?”
Shaming is very strong in Arab upbringing. We were told outrageous lies about Jews: "Don't take candy from strangers since it could be a Jew trying to poison you." We were also told that Israeli soldiers would kill pregnant Arab women just for fun, place bets on whether she was carrying a boy or a girl, and cut her open to see who won the bet.
My classmates would cry while reciting Jihadist poetry daily, wishing to die as martyrs. The teachers filled our hearts with fear of Jews, which made hatred come easy and terrorism tolerated. The propaganda of jihad, hatred and anti-Semitism was everywhere and not just in schools; it was in mosques, newspapers, movies, by politicians, in the arts and in many Jihadist songs over the radio. Mosque prayers often ended with cursing of the infidels (non-Muslims). Believe it or not, if you grow up with prayers like that, it can sound and feel normal.
FP: You show how polygamy is a religiously sanctioned structure in the Islamic world. Tell us how you witnessed its affect on women and on the rest of society.
Darwish: Polygamy is allowed under Sharia Islamic family law. The Muslim marriage contract allows a man to marry up to 4 wives and thus loyalty to one woman is not required. Men do not even have to exercise that right to additional wives for the damage to be done. By allowing men to be “loyal” to up to four wives, the stage is set for women to distrust their husbands, especially in times of trouble. Nor can they trust women friends who can be eligible to marry their husbands.
The basic loyalty bond between husband and wife is the basis of all loyalties in the family. In polygamy this basic bond shifts from husband/wife to wife and her father or male blood relatives and later to a woman’s first born son. A woman’s father or son becomes her protector and defender in time of trouble in the marriage or when the husband marries another woman.
Many Muslim apologists say that Muslim women have more rights than Western women because they keep their own wealth separate from the husband's. But they refuse to say why. The reason a Muslim woman keeps her wealth is because her father will never allow her inheritance to go to a Western style community property where it could be shared with a second, third or even a fourth wife and their children.
Even though most Muslim men do not practice polygamy, many others do. Because polygamy is allowed and sanctioned by Allah, it changes the dynamic of the wife/husband relationship and family loyalties. A Muslim woman does not change her name after marriage, but often goes by her first son’s name; for example “Um Muhammed” or “Um Ali” - that is mother of Muhammed or mother of Ali. It becomes a Muslim woman's identity and source of pride.
Even in Arab folklore and stories such as Tales from the Thousand and One Night, it reflects the impossible life of the main character Shahrazad who was one of a Harem struggling to survive by telling tales to the polygamous Arab kind. Listening to these stories taught us the art of manipulation to survive among competing women and one king.
That injustice to women is further complicated with an easy divorce existing only in the hands of the man. Women do not have the same right to divorce but can only ask the husband for it -- but if he refuses she has to go to court for years to get it. Sharia law also allows husbands to beat their wives who are not obedient. Just imagine that: a husband can have a second wife and not give his wife a divorce and if she disobeys, he can beat her. All of that is legal under Sharia Islamic law. Such laws turn the relationship between husband and wife from that of partners to one of slave and master. The victims in all of this are also the kids who are brought up by an oppressed mother who constantly need their support and approval against the father if he gets himself another wife. The children will have a lot of competition over the attention of the father who has several wives and several sets of kids.
I believe that even Muslim men are harmed by their right to polygamy which deprives them from a secure loving one man/one woman commitment. Because of polygamy and other sexual restrictions in Muslim society, poorer men have a hard time finding wives who sometimes prefer to be the second, third or fourth wife of a wealthier man. The end result is a large population of sexually deprived unmarried young Muslim men, angry and ready to listen to the calls of jihad in their mosques. Jihad and martyrdom thus become the only guarantee for heaven where 72 virgins will greet them with open arms. In this divine promise from God, polygamy still exists in heaven – and to the disadvantage of the Muslim woman.
FP: You make the point that Islamic terror has its roots in the rage that exists within the Muslim family. Can you talk about that a bit?
Darwish: Every Muslim family that lives in a majority Muslim country lives under Family Sharia (Islamic) Law. Sharia Law is divided into Criminal and Civil and Family Law. Criminal Sharia Law is not practiced in all Muslim countries and the reason is because it is simply cruel and unusual punishment; it includes amputation of limbs, flogging, beheading and stoning to death.
Family Sharia law is practiced in all Muslim countries and some Muslims in the West are demanding it. Family Sharia law gives most rights to men and very little rights to women. For example, Muslim men can marry up to 4 wives and even have the right to engage in sexual relations under the concept of “ma malakat aymanahum” -- which means owned women slaves. Slavery has been abolished officially in Muslim countries, but a man’s sexual right to “owned women” is still wide-open for reinterpretation.
In Saudi Arabia and many other Muslim countries, for example, maids are systematically raped since some men interpret their position in the family as a sort of slavery. The Muslim marriage contract is different from the Judeo/Christian marriage contract. In a Muslim wedding, the man does not vow loyalty to only one wife. Even if the man never exercises the polygamy right, the damage to the marital relationship has already been done. In the back of the mind of every Muslim woman in time of trouble is the reality that her husband can choose to solve the problem by having a second wife instead of going to marriage counselling.
I have heard Muslim women in the Middle East beg their husbands during an argument: “You can have a girlfriend if you want, but please do not marry on me for the sake of the kids.” In the West, the source of all loyalties in a family originates with the husband/wife loyalty and trust relationship where the man vows to be faithful and true to his one and only wife -- till death do us part. Such a vow by a husband adds stability and trust in the marriage. That gives wives equality, dignity and protection; not only for them but also for their children. Because of polygamy rights to the Muslim man, Muslim women have developed a need to protect themselves; thus you see no community property in the Muslim family unit. Muslim scholars often claim that Muslim women have more rights than Western women because they have the right to keep their property separate from that of their husbands; that is true, but they don’t tell you why.
The right in question has developed so as to protect a wife’s property inherited from her family from going to the second, third or fourth wife. Polygamy thus totally changes the dynamics of the relationship between husband and wife or wives. The loyalty unit is no longer husband/wife, but wife and male members of her own family and later wife and her first born son who will protect her interests if the husband gets another wife. In the Arab world, women do not take their husband’s name but keep their family name and often go by their first son’s name. Thus you see Arab women proudly call themselves “Um Ali” or “Um Muhammad” -- meaning mother of Ali or mother of Muhammad.
Polygamy rights are often complicated by other oppressive laws to women. For example, divorce is in the hands of the man only; a woman can only ask her husband for divorce, but he can refuse so she has no alternative but to spend years in court where her testimony is half valid than a man’s. Divorce is not only in the hands of the man, but it is also the easiest divorce in the world; all the man can do to have a divorce is bring any witness and say “I divorce you” three times; that’s it and the wife is divorced.
This injustice to the Muslim woman is compounded by the right of a Muslim man to beat his wife if she is disobedient. Think about it; a Muslim woman can legally turn into one of several wives, beaten if the man perceives her actions as disobedient and cannot even divorce the husband unless she goes through years of divorce court.
There are many other injustices for women which add insult to injury; a woman’s testimony in court is half valid to a man and she only gets half the inheritance of her male brothers. What complicates all of that to the Muslim woman, and even man, is that a Muslim man’s honor is directly linked to the sexual purity of his female relatives. Thus you see the Muslim man burdened by monitoring the behavior and chastity of his females. Many Muslim men are always eager to cover up their women whose bodies are considered great temptation that must be covered. Thus the family honor is linked to women’s bodies; a value which often ends in tragedies such as the honor killing of girls.
Of course not all Muslim women are abused or a part of a harem. There are many powerful and educated Muslim women whose husbands do not choose to marry a second wife. However they are not the majority and in time of trouble even the most powerful Muslim woman in Sharia courts will often lose to her husband simply because she has very few rights. Because of the inferior position of the Muslim woman and because of depriving the Muslim man from the security and stability of a one man/one woman marriage contract the scene is set for a lot of turmoil, anger and manipulative behavior for self-protection between the spouses.
How can an oppressed woman bring up happy and healthy children? Even sons? Character is dependent on an oppressed woman in the first years of life. That is the dilemma of the Muslim family. Polygamy rights do not only hurt women, but they also negatively impact younger and poorer males in the Middle East from having wives. Some Muslim women often choose to be an additional wife to a wealthy man than the first wife of a poorer man. The Middle East has a large number of unmarried and sexually frustrated young men who are ready for jihad and the 72 virgins awaiting them in heaven. That is what they hear in mosques every Friday.
Darwish: The Arab culture is famous for its concept of pride. Image is very important and pride and shame are great motivators. Protecting the image of Muslims in front of the non-Muslim West is vital. Thus elaborate behavior is done to saving face. Admitting to a mistake can bring terrible shame and is not regarded as a virtue; those who admit to mistakes are not rewarded for their honesty but ridiculed and shamed or even severely punished. Until today most Muslims blame 9/11 on a Jewish conspiracy. The father of Muhammad Attah in Egypt, for 4 years denied that his son headed the 9/11 terror attack even when the whole world saw him checking into the airplane that slammed into the twin towers. Only recently Atta's father come out and admitted he is proud of what his son “the Shahid” and not the terrorist has done.
There are people in Arab jails right now who are accused of defaming Islam or their country in front of non-Muslims. This defamation can be a simple praise of Christians or Jews and of being critical of radical Islam. Fear of being accused of defaming one’s tribe, nation or religion leads to a culture that tends to blame others rather than look within. The Judeo Christian culture concentrates heavily on the concept of “we are all sinners and only through the grace of God we can be saved.” That is a big relief to the Western psyche. Muslim education views members of other religions as sinners; the infidel non-Muslim sinners can only be saved by announcing they are Muslims. It is a prominent part of the Jewish faith to talk about God’s punishment when they are disobedient to God’s laws.
That honest admission by Jews is not viewed by Muslims as a virtue and a step towards self-improvement, but as an admission of wrong doing and that Jews are bad and deserve God’s wrath; that is why to many Muslims Jews do not deserve land or a nation. “They themselves even admit that they are sinners,” I once heard a Muslim say. There is also a concept in Islam called “taqueya” which allows lying to non-Muslims if it is in the best interest of Islam. That concept is very deep in Muslim culture that we don't even think of the term “taqueya” any more; it has simply penetrated every aspect of Muslim life. Because of it there is very little self-criticism.
Thus, saying sorry, admitting guilt or looking within for solutions is not a strong value; it will surely get a person in deep trouble instead. Such a person will bear the blunt of the blame for everything -- even for what he did not do; thus you have Muslim denials and defensiveness over matters that many in the West cannot comprehend. Muslims are in denial when they say that Muslim women have more rights than Western women; even many Muslim women convinced themselves with that and defend Sharia Law rather than say the truth in front of the non-Muslim West.
Muslims are in denial when they say Israel is behind all Muslim terrorism across the globe, even 9/11; they are in denial when they say that Arab tyrants are the product of American foreign policy, but when America takes out Saddam, they say “you are interfering in our internal affairs.” That is why many Muslims say one thing to the West in English and the opposite to Arabs in Arabic.
Shaming is prominent in the Arab child. To avoid the intense pain of shaming, denying responsibility turns into a virtue to save face and protect one's pride. The concept of “taqueya” is one of the reasons many Muslims were silent after 9/11. Only a few were speaking out honestly and openly by admitting there is a problem in Muslim culture that needs to be examined and corrected. The few Arab Americans who did that where not rewarded for their honesty by their Muslim community; instead they were condemned, shunned and shamed by the majority of Muslims. They are doing everything they can to silence us. They do not want to get into Western style dialogue with us or debate us in the open.
We rarely see Muslim vs. Muslim debate and that is why when the brave Arab American Dr. Wafaa Sultan, debated a Muslim cleric on Al Jazeera TV, it became international news. The thank you she got for her honesty by powerful radical Muslims was a Fatwa -- a death warrant. This explains and exposes the deep cultural need to even lie for self-preservation and protection. They don’t want an honest debate for reform from within; but they want to continue the lies to save face.
Very simply, Islamists do not want to admit to the world their jihadist agenda and their sympathy with terrorists. That is why they simply want to silence the opposition; a Danish cartoonist; the Pope; a Dutch film maker or politicians and the few Muslims and Arabs who dare to speak out.
Our crime is being honest and open about our culture, radical Islam and our wish for reformation. Even after leaving the Middle East and becoming US citizens we still carry the baggage of never admitting to a mistake and always blaming others such as the West or Israel for all internal problems of the Arab world.
This charade of denials and games has done nothing but keep the Muslim world in a permanent state of stagnation, turmoil and poverty despite of the wealth from oil.
"No, not all cultures are equal; there are some that make it easier to be human."