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Posing As A Jew, An Iraqi Learns About Anti-Semitism

Farris Hassan, the young Iraqi-American from Florida who left home and snuck into the AP offices in Iraq in 2005, engaged in another interesting "immersion" project after returning. At the height of the Israel-Hezbollah War, he went to Dearborn, Michigan, … Read More

By / March 21, 2008

Farris Hassan, the young Iraqi-American from Florida who left home and snuck into the AP offices in Iraq in 2005, engaged in another interesting "immersion" project after returning.

At the height of the Israel-Hezbollah War, he went to Dearborn, Michigan, which has a large Arab community, wore a Star of David, and pretended to be a Jew named Jacob Malachi. He writes:

I traveled to Dearborn, Michigan, home of the largest concentration of Muslims in North America, and spent more than two weeks researching anti-Semitism in the American Muslim community. This issue affects me personally because although my parents are Muslim, the majority of my prep school and nearly all of my friends are Jewish. Having previously researched Muslims as a fellow member of their community, in Dearborn I wished to go further.

To that end, I immersed myself with the Muslims as Mr. Jacob Malachi, a Jew who wore a Star of David necklace but had an open mind and was trying to gain a greater understanding of the Muslim community. In irony, I was not the Jew investigating the Muslim community's hatred of his people, but rather I was the Muslim literally putting himself in the skin of a Jew in order to directly feel the hate in his own community. My research was especially provocative because at the time Israel was waging war in Lebanon and the world Muslim population was more feverishly incited than ever.

The story was about relationships: between religions, between nations, between local communities, and between individuals. I did not try to rile up my subjects by zealously attacking all things Muslim; rather I closely examined the effects of my efforts to build friendships with them from the position of being a member of their much touted arch nemesis – the Jews. I wondered whether they would receive me with grace in light of my curious and tolerant disposition or attack me in light of my Jewish identity.

I interviewed the religious leaders of two mosques and attended three Friday prayer services and two memorials for victims of Israel's war in Lebanon. I met with patrons of the Bint Jbeil (Hezbollah's capital) Club and journalists of the Arab American Newspaper. I rubbed shoulders with hundreds of angry Muslims at a peace rally in Detroit and thousands outside the White House, where I heard, unfortunately not for the first time, the chant "La illaha ilallah, Hezbollah! Hezbollah!"

Through this journey I discovered that American Muslims, with an emphasis on American, make a surprisingly strong distinction between Jews and Zionists. Walking amongst them in the streets, restaurants, and mosques while displaying a Star of David necklace and my school's Jewish Club t-shirt, I had expected to get beaten up within days. Instead, I was met with a curious hospitality. I found that Muslim anger draws not from a religious or cultural conflict, but almost solely from the political quagmire of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Certainly no clash of civilizations is tearing the world asunder. To the contrary, Muslims told me they felt a closer kinship with the religious culture of Judaism than of Christianity.

Still, ugly ideas reached me. I discovered once again that many Muslims hold elaborate conspiracy theories about Jews, which seemed to be instilled by the political context of their upbringing. The following misconceptions were conveyed to me: Israel is eradicating Lebanese civilians so that they can clear "open livingspace" for Zionists to settle; the beheadings, assassinations, suicide bombings, and other terrorist acts occurring in Iraq and across the Middle East are often orchestrated by Mossad agents in order to suppress and vilify the Muslim people; and under Zionist influence, President Bush is waging not a war on terrorism, but a war on Islam.

I tried to mitigate their paranoia and conspiracy theories by presenting myself as a Jew speaking on behalf of the peaceful and wholesome aspirations held by most of his people. At the beginning they were mostly suspicious and cynical, but after meeting a Jew who defied all stereotypes and advocated peace, love, and unity, their animosity subsided. By the end, they embraced me as one of their own. That accomplishment, of making a positive difference in the minds of others, by itself made my trip worthwhile.

When Hassan first traveled to Iraq, a number of right-wing websites, including Newsbusters (the right's version of Media Matters), suggested that Hassan must have been a closet jihadist looking to foment jihad. Never mind his declared allegiances and obvious decency, look at his name. His website, with archived writings, is here.

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