My rabid vegetarian Jewish-Israeli semi-retired journalist friend sent me an interesting article by an American-based Egyptian Arab that I thought you might find interesting. I certainly did. Seems shame and guilt have longer reaches than even Christians knew. You are not alone any more. Another group has stepped up to the plate.
Careful, political information ahead. Do not read if you have a brain.
by Nonie Darwish
September 20, 2004
This week and last is the period of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. I know very little about the Jewish religion, but I understand the significance of this holiday. Even though I am not Jewish, I think that everyone can benefit from these holidays.
I learned from my Jewish friends that it is actually a period of ten days, from the eve of Rosh Hashanah through the day of Yom Kippur. This period is called the "Ten Days of Repentance" in Jewish tradition. The concept of examining myself from within and seeing what I, as well as my community, are responsible for because of our actions, with the goal of self-improvement, sounds both very attractive and alien to me and my cultural background.
I was born and raised in Cairo, Egypt, and the Gaza strip as a Muslim in the 1950s, when classical, more moderate Islam was prevalent. However, the concept of examining oneself deeply without fear of repercussions was lacking in our religious education as a whole. I am not sure if Islam influenced Arab culture or Arab culture influenced Islam, but two of the basic driving forces in Arab society are shame and pride.
I decided to try this wonderful Jewish tradition and apply it to myself and my culture of origin. I moved to the United States in 1978 and came with the usual preconceived biases, indoctrination and baggage from a Middle East upbringing - fear of Jews, of government, of people in power and fear of speaking my mind. Having lived through the 1956, 1967 and 1973 wars with Israel took away my feelings of trust and security. However, living in America made it easy for me to change and look objectively within myself, my history and my culture of origin. Now, I run a new website called ArabsforIsrael.com.
To courageously stand and admit to oneself and to the world one's sins, bad choices and engage them head on, to correct and repent, is hard for most people in any culture, but it is inconceivable and unheard of in Muslim culture. Speaking, even to oneself, of one's shortcomings and examining one's responsibilities first before blaming others would bring shame, disgrace and dishonor not only to the individual, but to his or her entire family. Those who admit fault or guilt, even if it is unintended, are regarded as fools and if the mistake is a cultural taboo, then one's reputation might be scarred for life and the person might end up brutally punished.
We were discouraged from sinning out of fear of an angry God, the flames of Hell and society's cruel punishment awaiting sinners right here on earth. There was no reward for loving humanity as a whole, self improvement and bringing out the best of the human spirit.
Pleasing the brutal dictators to get favoritism and wealth at the expense of the majority of the population was the common thing to do. Arabs were always proud to talk about the old glory and their old contributions to the world, but suppressed discussion and examination of any internal ills or evil. Because of this fear of shame and facing the truth about the negatives in Arab and Muslim culture, they allowed evil to dominate all aspects of Arab and Muslim society.
No one can deny the current sad state of the Middle East's dysfunctional society: terrorism in every Muslim country and poisoning the world; war; genocide of non-Arabs or non-Muslims, such as in the Sudan; the burning of churches, but taking refuge in Muslim holy shrines; the beheading of Jews; the destruction of Buddhist temples; brutal dictatorships; and weak economies. Despite wealth from oil, the Muslim world is among the poorest in the world.
Pollution and garbage are all around the great Nile Valley, unemployment is rampant and nothing can get done without bribery. Arab media forgives and ignores all these problems and is preoccupied with destroying Israel. This is the sad situation in the Middle East, where countries like Egypt cannot survive without generous US aid.
Blaming everyone and anyone but themselves was the only wise thing to do in a culture that showed no appreciation for accepting responsibility. Today, that culture has metastasized and it dominates a billion and a half Muslims around the world.
The only option for survival in such a culture is to always deny wrongdoing and tell yourself "you did not do it" until you believe it. Thus, Israel becomes the useful enemy that Arabs blame for everything; even the last terrorist attack on Russian children was blamed by some on yet another Jewish conspiracy. After defending and supporting Israel in my articles, I was also accused of being part of an Israeli conspiracy. At a time when most religions struggle to explain evil in the world, radical Islam found the answer: without hesitation, they say it is the Jews. Just listen to most Friday sermons in mosques all around the Muslim world. For that, I personally want to apologize to Jews around the world during this, their holiday period.
Jews do not wish each other a "Happy New Year" on Rosh Hashana, the way we are all used to doing on every January 1. The proper greeting is "Shanah Tovah", which means a "good year" or "a year of goodness." The greeting stresses goodness and living a good life; a life committed to improving the world and relationships. I am in awe when I hear my Jewish friends speak and explain the teachings of their faith. I want to take this opportunity to thank them and their culture for their many contributions to humanity. I am grateful to them for teaching me this great tradition that so many non-Jews need to reflect upon.
We all need to examine ourselves from the inside, bring out the good and see what we have accomplished as members of the human race. We all learn from each other and that is good.
May the New Year bring to our reality some of our expectations, and may it bring us more together.
Nonie Darwish is a writer, former editor and translator. Born and raised in the Middle East, although living in the US for over two decades, Nonie recently initiated the Arabs For Israel web site. She is also regularly invited to speak at universities and before other audiences.
Thanks to Mike Diamond for forwarding this fine article to us. Certainly, Nonie Darwish shows a clear understanding of the meaning of the High Holidays to the Jewish people – she is quite correct that these holidays have a special religious significance to better oneself through repentance. Her willingness to look beyond her upbringing in a Muslim/Arab environment in Egypt and become supportive of and defend Israel shows a lot of courage and for this we thank her. As part of the group, ‘Arabs for Israel’, the message to denounce suicide terrorism is in itself a major acknowledgement. Their recognition of Israel as a legitimate state for the Jewish People and their goal of change for the Muslim people to lead to the advancement for their people towards peace and the betterment of civilization are commendable. You can check their web site.
Shirley Anne Haber
The Media Action Group
Arabs for Israel