On Tuesday, November 16th, Hussein Aboubkhar, a former Muslim from Cairo, spoke to the Hebrew Academy High School about his life growing up as a Muslim trained to hate the Jewish people. Aboubkhar, a speaker for Stand With Us, captivated the high school audience by narrating his journey from a child who viewed Jews as the enemy, to a professor teaching Jewish studies and Hebrew to college students in California.
Imagine if every day of your childhood, you were taught that the people of the Jewish nation were savage, inhumane, and bloody apes. Everywhere you went, whether it was mosques, schools, or your own home, people discussed the hatred and propaganda of the Jewish people. This was the life of Hussein Aboubkhar. Hussein was born in 1989 to an average middle class Arab Muslim family in Cairo, Egypt. Growing up, Hussain claimed to be more of a nerdy boy than the “cool kid” in his town. Everywhere he went, he was constantly told stories of the Jews–the murderous, filthy, pigs who should not be on this Earth.
September 11, 2001, the day that the Twin Towers were destroyed by Islamic terrorists, is where Hussein’s story begins. Only 12 years old at the time, Hussein’s understanding of Jews was influenced by his parents, teachers, and peers. It was 6:00pm in Cairo when the towers fell, and Hussein’s whole family was gathered around the television, rejoicing over the terrorist attack. Hussein shares that he was only a child at the time, and not knowing anything else, he rejoiced with them. What we saw as a terrible and brutal attack, they viewed as a great act of redemption to Allah.
Hussein discussed how every child has been handed a narrative from society and their parents, telling them about their culture, their beliefs, and what is expected of them. As a child, Hussein’s descriptive narrative included attending Friday night prayers at the mosque, striving to become a banker like his father, and defeating the “super villain” Jew. Through television, his family, and his peers, he was taught that he was born into a great Arab nation with the most righteous people and the best culture and religion. He was told that “anyone who is not them is inferior to them.” Growing up, all of these teachings seemed realistic to him. Believing that their nation was the best led to the belief that, like any superhero, they too have greedy enemies who want to take everything from them. In their minds, this super villain is intelligent, controls the banks, the media, the news, hates Muslims, and is even worse than the infidels who merely want their resources, money, and treasures. He recalled learning that the super villain Jew pig kills Muslim children, bombards their territories, and drinks the blood of Muslims. In mosques, Hussein explained that these same ideas would be taught as a form of religion. He explained that many prayers discuss how the long descendants (Jews) come from pigs and apes, and are the great enemies of the prophet Allah. Hussein said how there are even prayer for the Jewish destruction, reciting hymns that translate to “may Gd make their children orphans; may Gd carry out their destruction, make their women widows.”
The problem with these prayers is that they can be very captivating and as a child, you get enthralled in these fantasies, Aboubkhar said. These stories are how you get a thirteen year old Palestinian child to go into his mother’s kitchen, take one of her cooking knifes, and look for Jews to stab. At only 15 years old, Hussein was captivated by all of these stories and decided to teach himself Hebrew and decode the Jewish system. When he searched online to look for information on this nation, every source he found was biased material on how awful the Jews were. The only information given about the Jews that seemed to help Hussein was in English. Due to this, Hussein began to teach himself English along with learning Hebrew.
For the first time in Hussein’s life, he found out that the Jews were actual people with a history. He learned about how Jews are the oldest and ancient indigenous groups of the Middle East coming from the Land of Israel. Hussein began reading about antisemitism–a blind, irrational, hatred towards the Jews and anything Jewish related. Learning about antisemitism resonated with Hussein because this is exactly what he was taught as a child. Reading about the Holocaust for the first time and other stories of Jewish history, Hussein learned about how the Jews were persecuted and attacked by other nations throughout the years. Slowly, Hussein’s image of these monstrous Jews began to fade and were reshaped with an actual human figure. Discovering that everything he had been taught was not entirely true caused Hussein to question his life and become depressed. Not being able to understand all of this new information, Hussein dropped all religious values and tried becoming a banker like his father, but failed. An important lesson by Hussein is that “if you really don’t like something, then you most likely suck at it. Don’t do it; you’ll be more successful doing something that you love than forcing yourself to do something else.”
Hussein later on went to study Hebrew literature at the Faculty of Arts and Oriental Studies Department at Cairo University, where he was taught antisemitic material about how the Holocaust was a conspiracy between the Zionists and the Nazis. Hating school due to its intellectual bankruptcy and bias, Hussein pushed through his four years. One day, Hussein came across an Israeli academic center. This had been his big dream, a political center filled with books and useful information on the Jews. Since he was majoring in Hebrew, Hussein had a legitimate excuse to go into the building, and gained the courage to enter the center a month later. On his way out, he was thoroughly questioned by security and asked to leave, but he gave his number to the man in case they had any upcoming events. Thankfully, a month later he was contacted and informed that the manager of the center was coming with the Israeli Diplomatic Mission to watch a movie and that they would be delighted if he could attend. Hussein quickly jumped at the opportunity to be with the diplomatic missions discussing the country he had been studying this whole time. However, two minutes after hanging up Hussein received another anonymous call. State security had called asking him questions about his family, why he was getting calls from Jews, and why he was suddenly interested in investigating the Jewish people. He was told that he needs to stop because associated with Jewish people was extremely dangerous. After more conversations, Hussein eventually gave up and agreed to stop associating with these “monsters”. Hanging up the phone, Hussein realized something. He had spend countless amounts of hours researching the Jewish people and who they are and has come way too far to simply stop now. Wanting to fight back, Hussein began a blog writing about his findings and the indoctrination that takes place in the Arab Muslim world. Another blogger in Israel had found his post and asked to interview him for a news article. Agreeing to do so, Hussein met with the interviewer and was later published on the front page of an Israeli newspaper.
The next day, Hussein and his family were sitting down when suddenly, there was a loud knock on the door. State security had come to arrest Hussein and his entire family, where they were later humiliated and questioned. This caused Hussein’s family to become concerned and held what Hussein called a family intervention. All his relatives had come to discuss the situation so Hussein figured this was the perfect time to confront them with his findings. His family did not take the idea that Jews were regular people well, and Hussein was kicked out and banned from the family. Being upset and abandoned, Hussein continued to blog and commit treason, explaining how awful the Egyptian system is.
Continuously being arrested for blogging and then released after a week, Hussein was eventually required to partake in a mandatory military service in Egypt, where they had every single text, blog, photo, phone call Hussein had ever sent. After training for 10 days, Hussein was sent to a military prison where he was physically beaten, belittled, named, kicked, and tortured for 2 months. Not being a tough man, Hussein could not stand the physical pain and was eventually released due to “being a threat to Egyptian military national security”. The commander told him that he never wants to hear about his time at the prison anywhere and that he needs leave and do something with his life. Since his entire family had shamed him, he decided to stay with friends. Hussein felt that his life was practically over now. He had never been through a fight in his entire laugh and now he suffered through this insane, unbearable, torture.
A month later, Hussein said that a miracle happened. This was the the Arab Spring. January 25, 2011 thousands of people began marching on the streets demanding democracy from the government. Hussein became part of the rebels, but was shut down by the Islamic brotherhood. After getting his degree and finishing college, Hussein continued living in Cairo for a little while and moved to the United States three years ago. He is currently 26 and is living in California where he is a professor teaching students about the Jewish History and their society. Being cut off from everyone he knew in his past, Hussein pushes forward for the justice of the Jewish people and is an avid advocate for Jewish people living in the land of Israel.