“Here’s a state that’s constantly called an enemy of Islam, yet Muslims have more rights in Israel than they have anywhere else in the Middle East,” Kasim Hafeez said.
By Licia Corbella, Calgary Herald
Kasim Hafeez grew up hating Jews and hating Israel. Now the 28-year-old British Muslim of Pakistani origin travels the world explaining how and why he has gone from a hater to a lover of the Jewish people and the Jewish state.
His personal journey of going from chanting “Death to Israel” in London’s Trafalgar Square to speaking about how he became a proud Zionist kept the Herald editorial board enraptured for much longer than our allotted hour on Thursday.
“To put it very bluntly, I was an anti-Semite,” the 28-year-old Nottingham-based university administrator said.
Whereas his grandparents merely parroted relatively benign and absurd conspiracy theories about Jews — that they controlled America and were behind Coca Cola poisoning polar bears in Antarctica (where no polar bears even exist) — his father was more direct.
“My father praised Hitler as being brilliant,” admitted Hafeez. “Hitler’s one failing,” according to Hafeez’s father, “was he didn’t finish off the job of killing all Jews.”
But back then, mosques in Britain were not political or radical. That started to change after Salman Rushdie’s book, The Satanic Verses, was published in 1988, followed by the war in Bosnia and ultimately the Islamist Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.
In 2000, Hafeez travelled to Pakistan and got swept up in radical Islam in a big way, believing that Muslims had to rise up and fight the “evil Jews and help his oppressed Muslim brothers and sisters.”
Upon returning to the U.K., Hafeez said he got further radicalized. He pulled out his iPad and showed photos of books, CDs and DVDs — including ones put out by the terrorist group al-Qaeda — that he bought openly at South Asian shops all over the U.K.
But his radicalization really ramped up upon attending university, where he studied political science, and with the help of his professors, turned virtually every class discussion towards how the Jews stole Muslim Palestinian land and were the root of all evil in the world.
After 9/11, Hafeez and his radical friends started attending “Stop the War” protests, which would “instantly turn into Israel hatefests.”
He and his Muslim friends made a point of befriending “middle-class white kids from Oxford” for their PR value. “We didn’t really see them as friends because we abhorred everything they stood for,” he admitted.
Eventually, all of his activism didn’t seem enough and Hafeez started saving money, hoping to return to Pakistan to attend a jihadi training camp. “Thankfully, it didn’t pan out that way,” he said, with a chuckle.
Hafeez’s plans were scuttled by reading The Case for Israel, by Alan Dershowitz. He read the book with the intent to “prove it all wrong.”
What he ultimately found out instead was that he knew virtually nothing about the region — that Jews, for instance, had lived in Israel for thousands of years and that a Palestinian state never actually existed. As he tried to prove the book wrong, the opposite started to happen:
“In hindsight, I never actually gave a real damn about Palestine, I was just obsessed with hating Israel.”
Starting to suspect the cause he was prepared to die for was a colossal lie, Hafeez fell into a depression. When he got better, he decided to travel to Israel to see for himself in 2007.
What he noticed was, even though he was held for eight hours at Ben Gurion Airport for questioning, he was treated with great courtesy and decency by the Israeli guards, who apologized to him repeatedly and who were the first Jews he had ever actually talked to.
The contrast to how he was treated in Saudi Arabia in 2002 when he went on a religious pilgrimage, shocked him. At the Saudi airport, while waiting in line for passport control, he was sent to the back of the line five times to make way for Arab Muslims, who are considered superior to South Asian Muslims: “I’ve never experienced the level of racism like I did in Saudi Arabia.”
By contrast, in Israel, while expecting to find apartheid signs directing Muslims to wait for one bus or another, what Hafeez saw instead were Muslims, Jews and Christians all going about their lives in harmony.
“Here’s a state that’s constantly called an enemy of Islam, yet Muslims have more rights in Israel than they have anywhere else in the Middle East,” he said.
In Jerusalem, Hafeez visited the Muslim mosque — the Dome of the Rock, where no Jews are allowed — the Christian Church of the Holy Sepulchre and then also visited the most holy site in the world for Jews, the Western Wall. With his Saudi experience still fresh in his mind, he assumed Muslims would be barred, but he was welcomed.
As he stood among Orthodox Jewish men and others praying, Hafeez said when he reached out and touched the wall, he “burst into tears.”
A rabbi asked him if he was OK. Hafeez said that he was. The rabbi asked him if he was Jewish. Hafeez said no. The rabbi then said, “That’s OK, this is Jerusalem, it’s everybody’s home.”
Years of hatred and animosity toward Jews and Israel melted away at that moment and Hafeez became a free man — like the people of Israel.
“Being so full of hate is just not healthy,” said Hafeez, who visited 10 Canadian cities on this tour. “Life is just so much better when you’re not so angry and full of hate.”
In many respects, the costs have been great for speaking the truth. Hafeez has received death threats, and his father would rather continue to invest his life into hating Jews and Israel, than loving his son, whom he refuses to see.
Ultimately, Hafeez said he seeks to warn the West of the incompatibility of radicalized Islam with a liberal democracy.
“Radical Islam has been brilliant at using this term ‘Islamaphobia’ to stifle any debate about the negative influence of radical Islam on western society,” he said.
“Radical Islamists are using freedom of expression rights to limit our freedom of expression,” he warned. “We must stop this now.”
Licia Corbella is a columnist and the editorial page editor. firstname.lastname@example.org
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