Book Review: Son of Hamas, by Mosab Hassan Yousef

For ten years, Israeli security had a mole at the highest level of Hamas, helping them stop innumerable bombings and murders by Islamic terrorists.  Mosab Hassan Yousef, the son of  Sheikh Hassan Yousef, the head of the West Bank branch of Hamas, converted to Christianity and acted as a spy for Shin Bet.  After ten years of working against terrorists, he applied for asylum in the US and is now living in California.  He has written a memoir of living through the two Intifadas, converting to Christianity, turning against terrorism, and leading a double life as an Israeli agent and in the inner circle of leadership of Hamas.

The book is spellbinding.  The narrative is direct and simple, and that simplicity gives the adventures Yousef lived through even more impact.  Yousef starts with his first arrest during the first Intifada, for throwing rocks at an Israeli car, through his rise in Hamas and the rise of his father, his arrest and torture at the hands of Israel, his decision to act as an Israeli agent, and insider insights into the second Intifada.    The book provides insights at many levels.

First, it provides an insider view of the major events of the second Intifada, into the motivations of Hamas, the practices of Hamas, and the inside stories of many of the terrorist events of that time.  The description of internal politics between the PLO and Hamas, how Hamas turned into a terrorist organization and such are described in a way that no westerner could do.  Yousef’s discussion of why Hamas rejected peace and a Palestinian state are insightful.  He notes that neither Arafat and the PLO *nor* Hamas wanted peace negotiations to succeed.  Arafat did not want them to succeed because an actual state and actual government would mean a decrease in his personal wealth and influence.  Hamas did not want it to succeed because a peaceful Palestinian state would obviate the need for the destruction of Israel and the removal of Jews.  The entire peace process was, and remains, a farce from the side of the Palestinian leadership.

Second, it provides an interesting view of how “moderate” moslems become radicalized.  After his conversion to Christianity, Yousef came to the conclusion that it was a necessary and natural progression of any moslem who became more devout.  As he writes:

“Islamic life is like a ladder, with prayer and praising Allah as the bottom rung.  The higher rungs represent helping the poor and needy, establishing schools, and supporting charities.  This highest rung is jihad.

The ladder is tall.  Few look up to see what is at the top.  And progress is usually gradual, almost imperceptible…   Traditional Moslems stand at the foot of the ladder, living in guilt for not really practicing Islam.  At the top are the fundamentalists, the ones you see in the news killing woman and children for the glory of the god of the Qur’an.  Moderates are somewhere in between.

A moderate Muslim is actually more dangerous than a fundamentalist, however, because he appears to be harmless, and you can never tell when he has taken that next step toward the top.  Most suicide bombers began as moderates.

The day my father first put his foot on the bottom rung of the ladder, he could never have imagined how far from his original ideals he would eventually climb.  And thirty-five years later, I would want to ask him: Do you remember where you started?  You saw all those lost people, your heart broke for them, and you wanted them to come to Allah and be safe.  Now suicide bombers and innocent blood?  Is this what you set out to do?  But speaking to one’s father about such things is not done in our culture…”

Third, it provides insight into the minds of those who are dealing in terror — how they justify it to themselves, how they view what they do, etc.

Fourth, it provides a working example of the interactions between an agent and his handler, and how that relationship affects the world view of the agent.

Fifth, it shows the transformational power of Christian conversion — it was that conversion that directed his actions.  It also shows the danger of conversion within the Islamic world, the farce of it’s so-called “tolerance,” and the cost that some people pay for their beliefs.

It is clear that Yousef is sympathetic to Israel, but that does not mean he is blind to atrocities on either side.  He is as cold-blooded in describing the violence, imprisonment, and torture performed by Israel as his is of the atrocities of Hamas.  Yousef spent a great deal of time in prison and was an observer and victim of both sides.  The description of day to day life in occupied Palestine is an eye-opener for any knee-jerk supporter of Israel.  His description of how his decisions affected his family are heart-wrenching.

Because this is a book by a Christian, describing his Christian transformaton and how it played out on the international stage, there is some discussion of Christianity from a believer’s perspective.  For those who are rabid antichristians who hate any description of faith that does not involve ridicule and contempt, the book may be a problem.  However, those parts are really not very intrusive. The book is not a “religious” book per se, and Yousef describes his faith and his conversion with the same simplicity and straightforwardness that makes the rest of the book so compelling.  He does note, however, that the social transformation will not come until there is a personal one:

As long as we continue to search for enemies anywhere but inside ourselves, there will always be a Middle East problem.

Religion is not note solution.  Religion without Jesus is just self-righteousness.  Freedom from oppression will not resolve things either.  Delivered from the oppression of Europe, Israel became the oppressor.  Delivered from persecution, Muslims became persecutors.  Abused spouses and children often go on to abuse spouses and children.  It is a cliche, but it’s still true: hurt people, unless they are healed, hurt people.

The problems in the Middle East exist because the players do not want a solution.  All the summits and all the faux agreements in the world cannot impose a structural solution on people who don’t want one.

The style of the book reflects something I’ve seen many times.  I’ve know a few real heroes in my day — people who were in harm’s way and who did amazing things.  They all had one common characteristic; they did not embellish what they did.  Most of them really didn’t like to talk about what happened to them, but when they did, they tended to do it simply and forthrightly without a lot of flash and bluster.  I’ve read a lot of suspense and action novels, from Tom Clancy to Vince Flynn and everything in between.   All the flash and drama of the novels can’t hold a candle to the simple telling reality of someone who’s been there.

I couldn’t put it down.