The controversy regarding the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed completely misses the point. Of course, the cartoons are offensive to Muslims, but newspaper cartoons do not warrant the burning of buildings and the killing of innocent people. The cartoons did not cause the disease of hate that we are seeing in the Muslim world on our television screens at night – they are only a symptom of a far greater disease.
I was born and raised as a Muslim in Cairo, Egypt and in the Gaza Strip. In the 1950s, my father was sent by Egypt’s President, Gamal Abdel Nasser, to head the Egyptian military intelligence in Gaza and the Sinai where he founded the Palestinian Fedayeen, or “armed resistance”. They made cross-border attacks into Israel, killing 400 Israelis and wounding more than 900 others.
My father was killed as a result of the Fedayeen operations when I was eight years old. He was hailed by Nasser as a national hero and was considered a shaheed, or martyr. In his speech announcing the nationalisation of the Suez Canal, Nasser vowed that all of Egypt would take revenge for my father’s death. My siblings and I were asked by Nasser: “Which one of you will avenge your father’s death by killing Jews?” We looked at each other speechless, unable to answer.
In school in Gaza, I learned hate, vengeance and retaliation. Peace was never an option, as it was considered a sign of defeat and weakness. At school we sang songs with verses calling Jews “dogs” (in Arab culture, dogs are considered unclean).
Criticism and questioning were forbidden. When I did either of these, I was told: “Muslims cannot love the enemies of God, and those who do will get no mercy in hell.” As a young woman, I visited a Christian friend in Cairo during Friday prayers, and we both heard the verbal attacks on Christians and Jews from the loudspeakers outside the mosque. They said: “May God destroy the infidels and the Jews, the enemies of God. We are not to befriend them or make treaties with them.” We heard worshippers respond “Amen”.
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