A former anti-Israel activist tells why he turned from hate.
Kasim Hafeez (32) could have easily turned into a jihadist terrorist. He was already on the right path. At home, in the United Kingdom (UK) Muslim community, and on campus, anti-Jewish and anti-Israel agitation was constant. Kasim’s own father harbored anti-Semitic sentiments. He considered Hitler a hero, and felt that his only failing was that he did not kill enough Jews. Growing up in the UK, to Pakistani-Muslim parents, Kasim was exposed to materials and opinions that were at best, condemning Israel for all the evils in the Middle East, and painting Jews as usurpers and murderers. More extreme elements in the Muslim community called for the wholesale destruction of the “Zionist Entity” and all Jews.
By the time he reached his 18th birthday, Kasim was completely indoctrinated into the fold of radical Islamism. His hate for Israel and for Jews was fueled by images of death and destruction set to the backdrop of Arabic melodies about Jihad and speeches by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and Osama Bin Laden. Kasim’s jihadist views were reinforced when he attended Nakba Day rallies in the center of London, where Jihadi speakers predicted Israel’s demise while Hezbollah flags fluttered all around him.
Kasim Hafeez and I met while on his speaking tour in Philadelphia on behalf of StandWithUs, an Israel advocacy and educational organization based in Los Angeles, with offices throughout the U.S., Europe, and in Jerusalem. Kasim, a self-professed “Muslim-Zionist, and proud of it,” posited that he experienced high levels of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel activity taking place on British University campuses, because in his own words, “I was the anti-Semitic, and anti-Israel activist.”
Joseph Puder: Your personal story is fascinating, and your transformation astounding. To what do you attribute this change with regards to Judaism and Israel?
Kasim Hafeez: The starting point for me was picking up the Case for Israel, a book by Professor Alan Dershowitz. The book challenged my fundamental and false beliefs that fueled my anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel. This triggered my research which was an attempt to disprove what I had read in the Case for Israel. This eventually led me to visit Israel, and seeing the reality of Israel and the Jewish People. The visit changed not only my views but my life in a dramatic way. The truth set me free in ways I could not have imagined, and the more I learned, the more my strength of conviction about Israel and the Jewish people grew.
JP: Europe, it appears, is gone in terms of support for Israel, particularly on campus. What are your ideas on how to reverse that situation?
KH: We have a real mess in Europe, which is our own fault. In trying to be “liberal” and “tolerant” we have allowed the worst intolerance to infiltrate every facet of society. This is a truly difficult battle as we have willingly surrendered. The start point must be for Jews and supporters of Israel to show courage and assert their Zionism. We must halt our own retreat. Unfortunately, our universities are now infested with anti-Israel professors, and many of the academic departments are funded by rich Gulf States. We are fighting against all facets of the system to reverse a situation that the meekness and indifference of Jewish communal leadership caused.
JP: The Middle East is in turmoil, with ISIS in Iraq and Syria, Al Qaeda in Libya and Yemen, and Hamas and Hezbollah on Israel’s border. How do you see the outcome of this clash among Muslims, and between the West and Islamic salafists?
KH: The Sunni-Shia schism is a 1,400 year old blood feud with no chance of reconciliation. There are so many factors to consider that make it impossible to predict. Saudi Arabia is fighting ISIS, whose state ideology created them. Iran’s regional aspirations are emboldening Shias everywhere. Sadly, there will be much more bloodshed before we are any clearer on the future of the Middle East. The spread of Islamism is a dangerous development, and it must be contained. Israel must be strong in neutralizing any threats on its borders. Any sign of weakness by Israel will only embolden the vultures that now circle it. As for the West, our only hope of containing the terror from the Middle East is a strong Israel, our furthest outpost of freedom, and the only real ally in the region.
JP: Some Europeans are converting to Islam. What motivates Britons, French, Germans, and others to do so? Similarly, many Muslims are secretly converting to Christianity, Judaism, and other faiths. How do you explain each phenomenon?
KH: Many Islamic organizations work hard to attract converts, tabling and providing free literature. They present the religion in a very relatable way, using such lines as “Jesus is a prophet of Islam.” It provides people with a support structure, a community, and a new start. When prospective converts are presented with selective excerpts, they do not have the full story. There are many videos on the internet of Europeans being converted at dawah tables with little knowledge of Islam, and it’s a sham. There is a real and aggressive Muslim campaign to convert. In terms of Muslims converting to other religions, I can only assume that when people have had to suffer under the tyranny of Muslims, they would want to be free of it. For a long time, Muslims were not exposed to other religions, and now that we are living in the internet age, information is readily accessible.
JP: What can Israel and Jewish organizations in the U.S. do to win “the battle of the minds” on campus?
KH: Show courage and pride. They have to be vocal and show they are on the side of truth. Just like in Europe, the meek retreat. Accommodating those who promote terror and anti-Semitism cannot go on. We must be active in promoting the truth. Those who spew hatred of Israel must be made accountable, and know there is a price to pay. It is time to set red lines, and make sure that those who specialize in hatred will no longer be tolerated. We will no longer be silent or intimidated. We must always make Americans realize why Israel is so important to them, and why their silence today will be to their detriment tomorrow.
JP: What are your future plans, and would you consider living in Israel or the U.S. or return to the UK?
KH: I don’t plan much for the future. I am going to be working with Christians United for Israel in the upcoming weeks, on a campus speaking tour. I will continue my work at B’nai B’rith Canada to help prepare students and anyone who wants to stand up for Israel with the skills they’ll require. I have no desire to return to Europe at all, but if I must, I will. As dear as Israel is to me, I believe my fight is outside of Israel. That’s where I can best make an impact. I would love to live in the USA. It is an incredible country, and for me the most vital battlefield in Israel’s PR war. For now, I am content being in Canada. I could never have predicted my life would have taken the direction it has. So, we shall see. I can guarantee one thing. The fight for the truth, for freedom, and for Israel will continue no matter where I am.
What made the difference in Kasim, and transformed him from a potential Islamist terrorist to an advocate for Israel is his intellectual honesty in his search for the truth. His convictions made him leave his family, friends, and country for what he believes is right and truthful. That demands true courage.
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