Nonie Darwish follow-up

The U.S. Dept. of Education called today to follow up on the complaint I filed in February with the Department of Justice.   I wonder if anything will come of it.

I shared my blog post (below) with the DoE.

Audience members assault protesters

Photo above: audience members assault protesters.

Hate speech or a courageous warning?   Depending on who you speak with, that’s what we heard at the University of New Mexico on Thursday, Feb. 23.  Nonie Darwish, an Egyptian-American who founded Arabs for Israel, was invited by theUNM Israel Alliance to talk about “Why the Arab Spring is Failing and How Israel is Involved.”  Her speech was interrupted half-way through by several young people in the back of the auditorium who attempted to “mic check” her in protest.  Yelling erupted as a number of audience members rushed to the protesters — pushing, punching and pulling a protester’s hair.

Young child crying

A young girl (I’m guessing 7-8 years old) started crying and found comfort in the arms of a UNM student because her parents had left her to join the melee in the back of the room.

I thought I was prepared.  Having read about Islamophobia for years, and followed high profile cases such as the Park 51controversy in lower Manhattan, Darwish’s speech should not have shocked me.  As a land use lawyer, I’ve written and co-edited a book on religious intolerance and how it plays out in the local government permitting process.   RLUIPA Reader: Religious Land Uses, Zoning and the Courts.  Nonie Darwish’s speech, however, crossed the hate speech line for me.

What is hate speech?  I’m not a constitutional scholar, but I consider words (spoken or written), pictures or any type of communication that incites violence against an individual or group because of their race, gender, ethnicity, nationality, religion, or sexual orientation, for example, as hate speech.  Inciting violence doesn’t require an explicit call to violence. Sowing the seeds of fear, distrust and anger which can predictably lead to violence, constitutes hate speech in my book.

Keeping audience member off protester
Photo above: Keeping audience member off protester

Nonie Darwish never said “go kill Muslims” or “burn down the Mosque.”  She prefaced her remarks by saying that she was “not here to talk about people, not to criticize a religion, but an ideology.”  She said “if a religion expands itself so much that it becomes the state – a religious state which has a religious legal system (Sharia law), and the religious state has a military institution called jihad” – then it is fair game to expose it and offer criticism.  At that point, I wondered if the audience would listen respectfully to a presentation about Israel, a religious state with a military institution (the Israel Defense Forces) that wages war against civilians in the Occupied Territories.

The Arab Spring is destined to fail, Darwish asserts, because of what she calls the inherent conflict between the Islamic political system and Sharia law.  Although not introduced as a legal or religious scholar, Darwish frequently cited to page numbers of various texts as she proclaimed that Sharia law authorizes a violent overthrow of leaders, and a whole host of other really nasty things.

I came home after the presentation still shaking and started to post some of her more inflammatory comments on Facebook.  As soon as I typed the words, I erased them, concerned that I might unintentionally be the conduit for violence. I didn’t want to offend my Muslim friends, and I didn’t want to be tainted with that hateful speech which made me feel dirty after typing them.

Nonie Darwish

Who is this woman?  Nonie Darwish was born in Egypt in 1949.  Her father was a high-ranking Egyptian military officer stationed with his family in Gaza and killed by Israel when Nonie was only eight. She immigrated to the United States in 1978 with her husband, became an Evangelical Christian and conservativeRepublican, and gained notoriety after she wrote “Now They Call Me Infidel: Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel, and the War on Terror.”  She regularly speaks on university campuses.

She says she wants to warn Westerners about the “dangers of Islam” and “expose Sharia law.”  She is very familiar with how her controversial remarks are received by some people, disclosing that there is a fatwa on her life for speaking against Islam, but her speaking tour is a way of “thanking America” for taking her in after she “escaped Egypt.”

A rational, thoughtful adult, even someone who has never been exposed to Islam, would hear her words and question “what’s the other side of the story?” Most people in the audience, however, appeared to be unquestioningly in support of Darwish’s worldview, giving her several standing ovations.

Every mainstream religion has its extremists, its radical fundamentalists who will resort to violence in the name of religion.  Google “Christian terrorism” or consider the Jewish settlers in Hebron in the West Bank or recall the Muslim hijackers who flew into the World Trade Center.  Each must be condemned, but Nonie Darwish goes far beyond that.

Darwish has painted all Muslims and the entire Islamic faith (at last count there are more than 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide) as extremists who want to make “war on the West.”  “A true Muslim must be an enemy of the West,” she declares.  “Jihad means a permanent war against Jews, Christians and non-Muslims. Jihad challenges the sovereignty of all non-Muslim countries.  Jihad against non-Muslims is required.”

“Lying to a non-Muslim is obligatory,” Darwish claims, “if the purpose [for lying] is obligatory [under Sharia law].”  She continues: “The Muslim religion hates the Jewish people. There are pure commandments in the Qur’an to kill Jews.” She also says there is “not one Muslim or Arab organization that teaches tolerance.”

Muslims are burning down churches in the Middle East, consummating marriage with young girls who are 8 years old, enjoying “pleasure marriages for a few hours” which is allowed under Sharia law. After sharing her interpretation of Sharia law as a fait accompli, she noted that “Islam has made Sharia law everything” and “all Muslims who live in the United States want to live under Sharia law.”  I found her wild claims were outrageous, but her opinions appeared to carry water with most everyone in this audience at UNM.

Darwish believes that the West is being deceived by its own intellectuals and politicians. She says that “Palestine never existed” (I can guess who she is supporting in the Republican primary).  In response to a question from the audience about the two-state solution, she advises that Gaza should be part of Egypt, and the West Bank should be part of Jordan. “If I was in Israel now,” she says, “I would build a fence higher and higher. It is a miracle that Israel can survive.”  A great applause from the audience followed this remark.

During the Q & A that followed her presentation (and Darwish said she appreciates challenging questions), one person asked her “if the problem is Sharia law, what is the solution?”  She said “first accept there is a problem” but gave no other “solutions.”

An audience member thanked her for “doing God’s work” and said she would go out and purchase all of her books. Another admirer remarked that universities “are not being taken over by the leftists, but by communists.”  A third audience member referred back to President Obama’s speech in Cairo when he spoke about “extremism not being the way – but did you see his face when he said it?”  This person thought Obama’s face became contorted and that he was tacitly giving his approval of extremism. “His policies are so anti-Israel.”

Professor Richard Wood

Professor Richard Wood, a recent past president of the faculty senate, stood to read a statement from Rabbi Flicker withdrawing the B’nai Israel Sisterhood’s support from this event, and rejecting all forms of hate speech.  The audience booed him down and even took the microphone away from him.

A young man stood and shared some gruesome details about how his family had been killed, and then revealed they were killed in Lebanon by Israeli soldiers.  He called Darwish a bigot and was booed down.

A recent UNM graduate stood and said she traveled to Israel and the West Bank last summer.  She saw the “Security Fence” that Israel has built in the West Bank and was sympathetic to the Palestinians living under occupation.  The audience booed her down.

Another audience member asked Darwish about her opinion of Israel attacking Iran.  She believes the West should be “acting powerfully” in response to the threat that Iran poses.  The audience enthusiastically clapped.

Hoping to dispel at least one statement Darwish made, I went to the microphone and shared that I had visited Egypt last summer, and was pleased to see both a Christian church and a Jewish synagogue, neither of which were burning.  In her forceful style, she laughed and dismissed my comment as an indication of my naivety.  I wish I had had the courage displayed by those young people who attempted the mic check. I should have told Darwish that her Islamophobia is unacceptable at UNM.

I wonder if UNM has a hate speech code. Gerald Uelmen, the former Dean of my law school in California, shared the that “[t]here were approximately 75 hate speech codes in place at U.S. colleges and universities in 1990; by 1991, the number grew to over 300. … [R]eports of campus harassment increased 400 percent between 1985 and 1990. Moreover, 80 percent of campus harassment incidents go unreported.” I suspect the statistics have skyrocketed since 2001.

Thankfully, the U.S. Attorney General’s Office is taking hate speech seriously.  In 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder established an Arab-American and Muslim Engagement Advisory Group.

Lynn Provencio

As a witness, I’m going to make a report with the UNM Campus Police on Monday, and I’m going to write to the Department of Justice and file a grievance.  Hate speech and Islamophobia must not go unchallenged.  The sponsors of Nonie Darwish’s presentation, including the UNM Israel Alliance, the David Horowitz Freedom Center, and Congregation Albert Brotherhood, should renounce this fear-mongering.

Her remarks crossed the line between free speech and hate speech when she smeared an entire religious group (all Muslims worldwide) as fanatics and extremists.  She meant to sow fear and distrust of all Muslims.  She encouraged the “us versus them” dynamics in her audience, where several members were willing to use physical violence to eject protesters from the auditorium, and grab the microphone away from speakers.

I can’t help but wonder what my Jewish friends and family would think if a speaker was up on stage denouncing Judaism in the way that Darwish denounced Islam.  First, they would rightly shout “Anti-Semite!” and then, if they had their wits about them, leave the auditorium and go protest at the University President’s house. I hope those same friends and family will denounce Nonie Darwish as a fear-monger and Islamophobe.

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