Al Arabiya should vet its guests for brains

Published: 27 May 2012
Al Arabiya should vet its guests for brains

With tens of professional Arabic TV channels to choose from, over the years, I have narrowed my viewing down to just two – Al Jazeera and #Al_Arabiya. Why? Because in my opinion those have evolved into our Arab world’s trusted flagship network providing viewers with comprehensive reporting and balanced viewpoints. So when a few of my friends called me the other morning suggesting I watch a re-run on of one of Hasan Muawad’s “Noqtat Nitham” (A Point of Order”) on I did not hesitate. They should have warned me that I was in for a shock.

On this occasion, Muawad’s guest was the Egyptian-American founder and president of “Arabs for Israel” Nonie Darwish (born Nahed Mustafa Hafez Darwish) who is believed to have written two books with the controversial titles “Now they call me an Infidel: Why I renounced Jihad for America, Israel and the War on Terror” and “Cruel and Usual Punishment: The terrifying global implications of Islamic Law”.

I use the phrase “believed to have written” purposefully because, in all honesty, after seeing her shambolic performance on the show, it is hard to imagine that she has authored anything with the possible exception of brainless hate-screeds designed to incite die-hard Islamophobes with even less grey matter than her own.

Her latest effort is called “The Devil we don’t know: the dark side of revolutions in the Middle East” penned around the thesis that all Middle East revolutions have been failures since the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire. She likens the Arab Spring to what she calls Egypt’s failed 1952 revolution even though that was a popularly-backed military coup that unseated King Farouk – and she erroneously characterizes Jamal Abdel Nasser, Hafez Al-Assad and Muammar Qaddafi as Islamists while warning that if Egypt’s new president fails to live-up to the Muslim Brotherhood’s expectations he will be assassinated like President Anwar El-Sadat.

I certainly did not expect to agree with Ms Darwish’s opinions and anticipated they might be slightly off-the-wall. Nevertheless, I was looking forward to a lively discussion between two knowledgeable individuals holding opposing viewpoints. I was, in fact, impressed by the level of professionalism involving meticulous preparation and research displayed by Mr Muawad but was astonished at Ms Darwish’s sheer ignorance about both Islam and Middle East politics.

The disparity between the mind-sets and debating skills of the host and his guest was embarrassing, almost akin to Einstein attempting to discuss his Theory of Relativity with Bugs Bunny. As she jiggled her hands about, squirmed in her seat, flicked through her notes in desperation or gazed up in the air clutching for answers I might have felt sorry for her if it were not for the baseless anti-Islamic propaganda and traitorous anti-Arab sentiments she was spouting.

Okay, she may have converted to Christianity after marrying and moving to the US, but whatever the colour of her passport her blood will always be Egyptian and Arab whether she likes it or not. Her father Mustafa Hafez, an officer in the Egyptian army, was the victim of a targeted killing by Israeli soldiers in 1956 – and was referred to by the former Egyptian President Jamal Abdel-Nasser as a “shahid” (martyr) whose death would be avenged. That poor man who gave his life for his country would be turning in his grave if he knew that his own flesh-and-blood was going around exonerating his murderers because “the fedayeen were killing Israelis”.

“Your father was one of those fedayeen, does that mean your father was a terrorist” asked Muawad? She fumbled for a reply before announcing her feeble definition of a terrorist – a person who straps something around their body!!

Darwish did express her love for the Egyptian people while blasting the youth in Tahrir Square for not carrying placards demanding separation of religion and state or insisting upon the removal of Article 2 of the constitution whereby legislation should conform to the principles of Sharia law. But when she was questioned why she neglects to criticize the Jewish state on similar grounds, she was stumped. Criticism of Israel does not feature in this lady’s manual. On the contrary, she displays little sympathy for the Palestinians and in a 2009 interview she regretted that “acts of goodwill and decency by Israel are never mentioned in the media,” adding “I felt that this is not giving justice to Israel.”

When she was asked what she thought of Terry Jones, the Texas preacher who burned the Quran, her answer illuminated her absence of any moral compass. She actually equated that heinous act with the burning of the US flag which is the way some Muslims (and others) have vented their political frustrations. She was equally confused about the people behind the ousting of President Mubarak for which she credited the Muslim Brotherhood, forgetting that just a few minutes earlier she had acknowledged that the youth were responsible for the uprising.

She clearly has a bee in her bonnet against Sharia claiming that if Egyptians demand Sharia they cannot ask for democracy and freedom in the same breath. There was one entertaining moment of levity. She said she’s visited two mosques in the US that advocated an Islamic White House and says British Muslims are out to convert the monarchy to Islam which, according to Ms Darwish, explains why Islamophobia is rampant in the West.

Illogical people just out for self-publicity should not be promoted or given a platform; they merely damage themselves, waste the viewers’ time and, ultimately, undermine the credibility of the network. Salman Rushdie’s book “Satanic Verses” received little critical acclaim but became a best-seller following the Ayatollah Khomeini’s death sentence fatwa fattening the author’s pocket.

Nonie Darwish is a self-hating nonentity who enjoys stomping on her roots. She could be a Mormon, a Scientologist or even a Moonie as far as I’m concerned. There’s an Arabic saying that says it all. When a man called Hanoun, who had a reputation for being useless, converted to Islam, people around said ‘Hanoun did not enhance Islam and neither did he damage Christianity’. I could say the same about Ms. Darwish who’s no loss to Islam and no credit to Christianity. She no asset to #Al_Arabiya either. I hope that Mr Mouwad has the sense to grab a large black marker with which to cross her name forever off his guest list.

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