The Muslim extremist who stopped hating Israel
British born Muslim Kasim Hafeez made the remarkable journey from an adherent of Islamic extremist ideology to a proud Zionist, and finally, to Room 116 of the University of Central Florida's College of Business Administration on the night of Nov. 18. While there, Ben Suster and the UCF Knights for Israel student group hosted Hafeez for a talk before a standing-room-only audience titled "The Day I Stopped Hating Israel," discussing his journey from British Muslim to Muslim extremist to Israeli tourist and Zionist.
Hafeez, as he told it, used a 2007 trip to Israel to see for himself if the positive things that he had recently heard about the Israelis were really true; if, in fact, Israel was not a brutal apartheid state that oppressed Muslims as he had been taught from his youth. The turning point on his trip that pushed him strongly toward belief in Zionism was, as he relates, when he came upon an Israeli bus stop.
Why was a bus stop so instrumental in Hafeez's transformation? It was the people he found at the stop: an Israeli soldier, a Muslim, an Orthodox Christian, and Orthodox Jew, and, the kicker, a guy with green hair! As he put it, quite simply, "Where else?" Where else would that smorgasbord of people be found? And, where was the oppression that Hafeez had heard about? The answer, of course, is that the oppression wasn't there. As an Israeli Arab told Hafeez on his trip, there is nowhere else in the Middle East that was as free and unoppressive as Israel. Hafeez was struck on his trip to Israel with the importance of Medinat Yisrael, the State of Israel, to the cause of freedom and humanity for everyone, from the Arabs to the Jews to all other peoples.
The Israelis remain firm in their humanitarian commitment and refuse to be defined by hate: after the earthquakes in Hafeez's family's homeland of Pakistan some years ago, Israel was the first to offer assistance, although the Pakistani government refused it. The Israelis, as the Arab man told Hafeez, provide excellent personal security to their Arab and Muslim inhabitants. As Hafeez additionally recognized, Israel is the one tangible piece of hope for the survival of the Jewish people in the face of another atrocity like the Shoah, and if it had existed prior to the rise of the Nazis, it could have been the difference to save millions of Jews when no other country would take them.
Hafeez found a fundamental quality of Israel in his journey that, as he noted, is rooted in the Jewish faith. In Israel, Hafeez came face to face with the Jewish drive to respect and "care for everybody" that comes up in all of the examples of Israeli exceptionalism. Such a passion for people is at the root of what makes Israel special and the opposite of oppressive. Even in political research, it has found that the drive to respect all people in Israel may be a tangible part of the difference and occasional animosity towards Israel on the part of the West: the person as primary defines Israel.
In that light, of course, Hafeez could not find the oppression that he had been told was present. He shared that his questioning of the Arab man as to "how difficult it must be for him to live in Israel" turned out to be one of the most stupid things that he ever did. The personal level, though, like concern with "how hard it must be," is precisely the line of attack that so affected Hafeez toward Israel hatred as a youth. As he told it, pictures were distributed in his community of dead children claimed to have been killed by Israeli forces, and when one sees a dead child, one doesn't stop to think, "Hmm, I wonder if this is accurate?" No, instead 99.5 percent of people become angry, like Hafeez did-starting at that time and growing over the years, Hafeez developed an intense hatred for Israel that he said if unchecked could have turned him into a suicide bomber.
Since he turned his life around, Hafeez works toward the aim of helping the cause of the State of Israel and the Jewish people. He shared some strategy, saying that proactively showing the humanity of Israel is key to curbing the tide of anti-Israel hatred that Hafeez used to be a part of. He related that the story of the Jewish people and the State of Israel is humanity's greatest story never told; therefore, to fight the ever increasing personal attacks on Israel: Tell the story.
Caleb R. Newton is a global affairs analyst living in Central Florida. Find him at the Times of Israel, Dissecting Society, and Global News Breakdown. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.