Belmont Club

Faith in Cynicism

News that a son of the founder of Hamas, a 32 year old man named Mosab Hassan Yousef, has denounced his father’s cause and converted to Christianity is bound to received with disbelief in sophisticated circles, especially since Mosab spent years fighting the shadow war alongside his sire. The WSJ has the basic story.

Throughout the last decade, from the second Intifada to the current stalemate, he worked alongside his father in the West Bank. During that time the younger Mr. Yousef also secretly embraced Christianity. And as he reveals in his book “Son of Hamas,” out this week, he became one of the top spies for Israel’s internal security arm, the Shin Bet.

The news of this double conversion has sent ripples through the Middle East. One of Mr. Yousef’s handlers at the Shin Bet confirmed his account to the Israeli daily Haaretz. Hamas—already reeling from the assassination of a senior military chief in Dubai in January—calls his claims Zionist propaganda. From the Israeli prison he has occupied since 2005, Sheikh Yousef on Monday issued a statement that he and his family “have completely disowned the man who was our oldest son and who is called Mosab.”

If Mosab had been a US Army Major who converted to Islamism and shot his fellows, or a West Point Chaplain who has found Allah, or a Cambridge Apostle who became a KGB agent the literate public would have no problem lionizing him. But going the other way?  A Western cafe leftist is often psychologically incapable of accepting any that any form of religious belief can be genuine, unless it suits his prejudices. Ironically Sheikh Yousef himself is probably more aware of the of the central role that belief plays in a revolutionary organization and hence not only the possibility of converting to another cause but the impossibility of living without it. Among the terror operators there always exists a leaven of dreamers for whom the point of life is faith.  When a true believer becomes unable to adhere to one cause he generally finds another.  This may have happened to Mosab who discovered in prison not that the Jews were perfect, but more subversively, that Muslims were no better. The WSJ takes up the story.

Mr. Yousef traces his awakening to his first sustained exposure to Hamas cruelty. In 1996, he was arrested by the Israelis for buying weapons. He says he was beaten and tortured badly in custody. It was then that the Shin Bet approached him. He says he thought about becoming a double agent. “I wanted revenge on Israel,” he writes. But when he was sent to serve his term at the Megiddo prison in northern Israel, he says he was more shocked by the way the maj’d, Hamas’s security wing, dealt with other prisoners.

“Every day, there was screaming; every night, torture. Hamas was torturing its own people!” he writes. The Muslims he met in jail “bore no resemblance to my father” and “were mean and petty . . . bigots and hypocrites.”

That hypocrisy shattered his world and probably made him want to strike out at the duplicity that he saw there. It was then that he turned to Shin Bet which cannily, asked him to do nothing. “Though he took money from Shin Bet and stayed on their payroll for a decade, his handlers in the early years didn’t ask much of him. They encouraged him to study and be a model son. His code name was the Green Prince: green as in the color of the Islamist Hamas flag, and prince as the offspring to Hamas royalty.”  This was a psychological masterstroke.  The Shin Bet probably understood that the mere awareness of working for Israel was a burden that could break him. And when they finally asked him to act they made sure it was on terms he could accept. Even in betrayal they would give him a measure of meaning.

He says he used his influence at Shin Bet to get the Israelis to try to arrest Hamas and other Palestinian figures rather than blow them up with missile strikes. He says he saved his father from the fate of Sheikh Yassin and other Hamas leaders whom the Israelis killed by secretly arranging to have him arrested. “I know for sure that my father is alive today, he still breathes, because I was involved in this thing,” he says.

But after the first thing he did for Israel, it was inevitable that Mosab would conclude that he could neither hold himself above the men he now worked for or the cause he had betrayed. There was no balm in his Gilead. He had reached the most dangerous conclusion that any activist can ever attain: the knowledge that he cannot be righteous. A true believer can be deprived of almost everything, except certainty. Time and again we read in history about Old Bolsheviks who would submit to any degradation except expulsion from the Party. Prison they can bear; expulsion from the road to paradise they cannot. A world so formerly comprehensible, stark in blacks and whites, with ready answers ever to hand cannot become one of relative grays without precipitating a crisis. All bolsheviks, environmentalists, and firebrands of all descriptions who lose their righteousness know they are living a lie. And then they must either get out of the game or go crazy.

It was probably fortunate that a cabbie in Jerusalem handed Mosab a copy of the New Testament. In the galaxy of faiths the one optimized for people who are lost and despairing is Christianity. Christianity is not for the righteous, it is for those who have fallen. It must intuitively appealed to the young man. Mosab said:

“I found that I was really drawn to the grace, love and humility that Jesus talked about,” he says in “Son of Hamas.” … [The WSJ says] Mr. Yousef has some of the evangelist in him, even as he insists he is not a particularly devoted Christian and is still learning about his new religion. He wants Palestinians and Israelis to learn what he did from the Christian God.

“I converted to Christianity because I was convinced by Jesus Christ as a character, as a personality. I loved him, his wisdom, his love, his unconditional love. I didn’t leave [the Islamic] religion to put myself in another box of religion. At the same time it’s a beautiful thing to see my God exist in my life and see the change in my life. I see that when he does exist in other Middle Easterners there will be a change.

Frederick Forsyth wrote about a meaning in a way that even die-hard secularists can understand. His character, Shannon, a mercenary in the novel The Dogs of War, reflected on why he needed to remain in the Life instead of pulling out and getting a job as a clerk in London. There are men who live for other things and he was one of them. It’s an explanation that both Sheikh Yousef and Mosab — and the Shin Bet controller — would understand in their own ways. The only ones who might have trouble comprehending are those who find no need to believe in anything more than getting laid, getting drunk and getting ahead: that mass of people television thinks it is talking to. And which maybe it does talk to. Shannon mused:

The real problem was being able to stick it out, to sit in an office under the orders of a wee man in a dark gray suit and look out of the window and recall the bush country, the waving palms, the smell of sweat and cordite, the grunts of men hauling the jeeps over the river crossings, the copper-tasting fears just before the attack, and the wild cruel joy of being alive afterward. To remember, and then to go back to the ledgers and the commuter train, that was what was impossible. He knew he would eat his heart out if it ever came to that. For Africa bites like a tse-tse fly, and once the drug is in the blood it can never be wholly exorcized.

St. Augustine of Hippo spoke for many when he wrote “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”” Whether or not we find, we are born to seek.

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