Meet my new friend Hussein

One line from George Orwell’s 1984 changed Hussein’s life: “You are never crazy even if you are a minority of one.”

February 1, 2018 20:48
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People shout slogans against Israel while burning a makeshift Israeli flag during a protest against Trump's Jerusalem declaration, in front of the Syndicate of Journalists in Cairo, Egypt December 7, 2017. . (photo credit: MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY/REUTERS)


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Why would I be friends with someone who grew up in radical Islamic, antisemitic Egypt? Well, Hussein Aboubakr, whom I met at a recent StandWithUs conference, is different from the rest.

Born in 1989 to a traditional, middle-class Muslim family in Cairo, Hussein relates that he was taught the following narrative – by his parents, in the mosque, in school and via television: “The Muslims are superior to all, with the best values, ethics, traditions and heritage. Anything in the world which is not a direct product of theirs is inferior. Western culture is the infidel, but the super villains are the Jews who are the incarnation and epitome of evil, who seek to destroy all that is good in the world.

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These ‘Zionist pigs’ who control the banks, the media and all politics enjoy drinking Muslim blood from the Muslim children they kill. They are the descendants of apes and pigs, and the final redemption will come when we kill all Jews.”

Hussein saw these messages on television regularly, and he recalls how the movies of his childhood were filled with Jewish villains who were stopped by the good Egyptians. The No. 1 comic book character was “Man of the Impossible,” who went around the world destroying Zionist conspiracies. These stories – filled with mythology and fantasy – were captivating for young children, and Hussein took them for granted as truth.

All Egyptian children dreamed of playing their role in this epic battle of good versus evil. Obsessed with the super-villain Jews, Hussein also wanted to contribute to winning this war, so he decided to use his smarts and love for computers toward this end. He resolved to study Hebrew via the Internet, and to then infiltrate these evil plans and provide logistical support to the physical war against the Jews and Israel.

After Hussein learned Hebrew, he began doing research about the Jewish people, and was completely shocked by Jewish history: Here was an ancient Middle Eastern nation indigenous to the Land of Israel, with an ancient connection to Jerusalem. Hussein began to see Jews as people and began reading about the history of antisemitism, which he calls “blind hatred toward the Jews for no reason.”

And then Hussein took a step back, looked as his parents and society around him and asked himself: “Isn’t this antisemitism? Isn’t this blind hatred?”

This led to his rethinking the entire Islamic culture, and reanalyzing other things that he had previously taken for granted: that women are inferior, and that Egypt’s 10 million Christians should be oppressed. Hussein became horrified by “everyone around me telling me pure nonsense.” But feeling that everyone was wrong and he was the only one who was right led him to think that perhaps he was crazy: “How could all the imams, teachers, parents and television shows be all wrong?” Hussein became depressed and barely left his room.

ONE LINE from George Orwell’s 1984 changed Hussein’s life: “You are never crazy even if you are a minority of one.” This gave him the courage to enroll in a local university, where he took Hebrew language and literature courses. But his excitement dissipated quickly when he heard professors promoting the same lies he was taught as a child, with additional “facts” such as the Bible proving that Jews are pathological murderers and that the Holocaust was a Zionist conspiracy.

During his third year of university, Hussein’s intellectual curiosity made him desperate to find resources about Hebrew, the Jews and Israel. He struck gold when he found out about the Israeli Academic Center attached to the Israeli Embassy in Cairo. The center was filled with Hebrew novels, newspapers and even comic books, and Hussein photocopied as much as he could. As he left the building, a state security officer approached and interrogated him for 15 minutes on what he was doing there and why he was talking to Jews. Hussein explained that he was a student in the Hebrew department who wanted to know what “Israeli pigs” say about Egyptians, but the officer confiscated all the material.

A week later, Hussein accepted an invitation to attend an event at the center, but received a call from state security moments later. They threatened to torture him, and told him to promise to stop studying Hebrew and talking to Jews. Hussein promised, but then hung up even more determined. He wrote a blog about his experiences, which led to an Israeli journalist interviewing him for a story that appeared in an Israeli newspaper.

Hussein and his father were arrested two days later, and Hussein was lectured for his treason and reminded about the evils of “the pigs.” The two men were released, but the experience led to Hussein telling his family – including his brother who was training to be an imam – about his beliefs. He was expelled from his family, and with nothing to lose he began blogging about his criticism of antisemitism and the mistreatment of women and Christians in the Muslim world. This led to numerous arrests, which ultimately led to painful physical torture for being a “Jew-lover,” a “Zionist spy” and an “apostate traitor.”

Hussein became active in the Tahrir Square protests in January 2011, and when the Muslim Brotherhood took over he was sent to a concentration camp. He managed to gain release after a few weeks, hid in a Christian monastery, and then fled and received political asylum in the US.

Hussein now teaches Hebrew in California and advocates for Israel. In his words: “Israel is a small nation that rode from the darkest moment of human history – genocide, persecution, and annihilation. This gives us all hope that humans can survive darkness and thrive and be safe in their own home. In Israel, no one will be tortured for writing a blog, and no one will be imprisoned for simply writing their ideas. Israel gives hope that the Middle East can have Western, moral values with human rights, liberty and freedom.”

I am proud and honored to call Hussein a friend. May God bless him with great success, and may the many quiet “Husseins” living in the radical Islamic world learn from his example, and stand up for what’s right, and just, and true.

The writer served as a member of the 19th Knesset with the Yesh Atid party and is the executive vice president of government and community affairs for Innovation Africa.

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