Knowing Your Other By Reading Him
Mohammad Husein and the Rambam
I want to urge everyone to read yesterday’s profile of Mohammad Husein, the U.S.-educated West Bank Palestinian who has been unable to find a publisher for his Arabic translation of Maimonides. It is a fascinating piece and an excellent sidelong glance into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—at one point, Husein and a professor at his alma mater, Boston’s Hebrew College, named Nathan Ehrlich, realize they were both born in Jerusalem on the exact same date. (Also, a quick reminder, that a great guide for the Maimonides-perplexed is Sherwin B. Nuland’s Nextbook Press biography.)
I was especially taken with this passage:
A decade later, [Husein] studied psychology and sociology at Bethlehem University. As Husein read Marx, Trotsky, and Rosa Luxemburg, he realized the writers were all Jews. He resolved to learn Hebrew to better understand the Jewish people. By day, he chatted with his Israeli coworkers in a cement factory. At night he read the Bible, first in Arabic—“We were fortunate the Christian Arabs translated it to Arabic,” he said—and then in Hebrew.
It reminded me of one of the techniques that FBI counter-terrorism specialist Ali Soufan used in the course of interrogating an al-Qaeda sympathizer named Abu Jindal (as reported by the great Lawrence Wright).
Abu Jandal was confounded by Soufan: a moderate Muslim who could argue about Islam with him, who was in the F.B.I., and who loved America. He quickly read the history that Soufan gave him and was amazed to learn of the American Revolution and its struggle against tyranny.