Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Book Review: Son of Hamas

Son of Hamas by Mosab Hassan Yousef (in collaboration with Ron Brakin) is aptly subtitled " A Gripping Account of Terror, Betrayal Political Intrigue, and Unthinkable Choices." The author is the son of Sheikh Hassan Yousef, a founding member of Hamas and a very popular and influential member of that group.

I was intrigued by a review I read about this book which highlighted the fact that Mosab Yousef had converted to Christianity and is now living in the United States in political asylum. That was definitely one of the "unthinkable choices" the author made in his life, but it is not the focal point of this memoir.

Yousef was the right-hand man to his father, and spent much time in Israeli prisons. He was recruited in his first imprisonment by the Israeli internal intelligence service, Shin Bet, and became a double agent--rising to a powerful position within Hamas while at the same time relaying vital intelligence to the Israelis. This role provided protection for his father from the retaliation for the terrorist operations of Hamas which otherwise would surely have come his way.

One of the results of the multiple imprisonments was that Yousef saw not only Israeli brutality but also the brutality visited on his fellow Hamas members by the Hamas gang leaders in the prison. He has great admiration and love for his father, whom he describes as a true servant-leader of his people, but was dismayed by his father's increasing tolerance of the use of violence and terror by Hamas and the unreasonable and corrupt leadership that developed.

Yousef recounts a number of hair-raising assignments that he undertook for the Israelis as a double agent over a number of years and these stories rival anything you've seen on 24. He became a successful businessman in between stints in prison, which were arranged by the Shin Bet in order to protect his "cover".

But the recounting of his spiritual journey is much less sensational. The more violence and treachery he was exposed to, the more he began to question the beliefs he grew up with. When some friends invite him to a Christian Bible study, he takes them up on it. (There's that relational aspect to evangelism again!) Yousef becomes attracted to the teachings of Jesus long before he comes to accept him as Lord. His final conversion was not a "Damascus" moment, but a gradual acceptance of the truth of the Gospel message about the nature of Christ. If this were a novel rather than a memoir, I would characterize the story of his religious conversion as a minor sub-plot and not part of the major theme of the book.

The conversion, together with the mounting emotional toll of many years of living a double deception, prompt Yousef to quit his association with Shin Bet and finally negotiate their assistance in his departure from the area and arrival in the US where he received political asylum.

He writes that he retains a relationship with his father and his family, despite the conversion and departure, because of their strong ties of love. His former associates in Hamas of course see him as a traitor to them and to Islam. Publishing this memoir is certainly an act of great courage which exposes the author to the risk of retribution, even as a resident of the US.

In an afterword, Yousef describes himself as a new believer with a long way to travel on his new spiritual journey as a Christian and disavows any role as a spokesman or leader. Fair enough.

Still, there is something unsettling about this book and author that I cannot quite put my finger on. Maybe it's an uneasiness with the ethical and moral problems inherent in the role of a double agent, although I recognize the need for them in the current international situation. Maybe it's because I expected the faith journey to be more integral to the story than I think it is and was disappointed. Maybe it's a profound feeling of despair about the possibility of a truce in the Israeli-Palestinan conflict that descended on me after finishing the book. Maybe it's all of these things.


Mac said...

I suspect your unsettled feelings about Yousef's role as a double agent are almost genetic. From the dawn of history, every society has placed the spy and traitor in a special class of dishonor.

Under US law, there is only one crime for which the mandatory sentence is death: Spying in time of war. (Art 106, UCMJ: “Any person who in time of war is found lurking as a spy or acting as a spy in or about any place, vessel, or aircraft, within the control or jurisdiction of any of the armed forces, or in or about any shipyard, any manufacturing or industrial plant, or any other place or institution engaged in work in aid of the prosecution of the war by the United States, or elsewhere, shall be tried by a general court-martial or by a military commission and on conviction shall be punished by death.” I love the word “lurking.”

In WWII, the Brits turned a number of German agents by offering them the choice of the gallows or turning their coats. I don’t recall any taking the former option. Still, they were never trusted or accepted, and I think after the war, most were imprisoned.

If you think about it, being a double agent is a form of adultery, a betrayal of a primal trust (one between spouses and the other between citizens of a country). In every case I had involving divorce due to adultery, it was the destruction of trust that was irreparable. The same goes for other forms of treachery.

So, your feelings have a Biblical foundation.

Quotidian Grace said...

Thanks, Mac. Yousef was definitely pressured very hard to turn his coat and felt he had no choice in the beginning.