Kasim Hafeez (34) 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 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 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: 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...