Chumash Auditorium was politically split Monday night when writer Nonie Darwish, an American woman of Middle Eastern descent, spoke about how politics and religion divide the Jewish and Muslim communities and how both groups can overcome that division.
In her speech, “The Importance of Building Respect, Trust and Peace in the Middle East,” Darwish expressed her opinions and experience growing up as a Muslim in Egypt and the Gaza Strip.
Over 120 Cal Poly students and community members came to listen to the event, which was sponsored by Hillel of San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly’s Jewish cultural club), ASI and Alpha Epsilon Pi (Cal Poly’s Jewish fraternity).
“When I got (to Cal Poly), I realized that a lot of programming was anti-Israel and thought that was very biased,” said Ryan Evans, a business accounting junior and Hillel member who helped plan the event.
Darwish moved to the United States in 1978 when she was 30. She claimed that the Gaza schools trained her to hate Jews. When she moved to the United States, Darwish was surprised with the kindness she received from all people, including her Jewish boss.
“It contrasted with the ‘us against them’ mentality I was raised with,” she said.
Darwish said the Arab media is to blame for the hatred of Jews in the Middle East.
“The only way to change is by reforming the way (Islam) is taught, practiced and the way it is being interpreted,” Darwish said.
She also said that “the United Nations is a disgrace” and that modern technology, like the Internet, is helping to re-educate Arabs and is teaching them the truth about Israel.
Darwish ended her speech by saying, “There has to be an end of attacking the West Bank in Gaza.” The majority of the audience responded with applause.
Some Muslim students, however, were upset by her thoughts.
“I wanted to make sure that students know that she is a writer and is only expressing her own opinion,” said Humza Chowdry, an architecture engineering senior. “She stereotyped all Arabs. She can say what she experienced but not all Arabs are raised how she was.”
When Chowdry asked Darwish about recent events in Israel, Darwish asked if he was Muslim and then called him her brother.
Chowdry was later upset to find out that Darwish had converted to Christianity.
“She called me her brother, but I do not consider her a Muslim,” Chowdry said.
Despite the controversy, Hillel president and computer science junior Jeff Pathman was positive about the speaker’s message.
“I was happy about the question and answer portion,” Pathman said. “I think she did a good job answering questions and supporting Israel.”