The Interrupted Terrorist

How a Radicalized Antisemite Found Peace in Jerusalem

Kasim Hafeez was born in England to parents of Pakistani origin and grew up in a devout Muslim home in Nottingham. His Muslim enclave wasn’t violent or what might be called extreme, but antisemitism was always in the background. They never interacted with Jews, but in his home and community, the topic would elicit an irrational hatred. According to the narrative, Israel was occupying stolen land and carrying out genocide against the Palestinians. To Kasim’s father, the only thing wrong with Hitler was that he didn’t kill enough Jews.

So Kasim grew up believing antisemitism was both justified and righteous. As a college student, he joined the Islamic Society, where he was exposed to a steady stream of imagery showing death and destruction said to be perpetrated by Israel on the Palestinians. At some point, he came to believe that protests and information campaigns against Israel were not enough. True jihad demanded violence, and he decided he would leave college and join a terrorist training camp in Pakistan.

A Rational Case for Israel

Before carrying out those plans, though, he came across The Case for Israel (2003), by Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz. The case for Israel? What kind of idiot could defend Israel? he thought, furious. Nonetheless, he started reading. It was an act of defiance, not curiosity.

But what he read challenged everything he’d come to believe about Israel—with simple, rational arguments based on evidence. Dershowitz outlined how it wasn’t Israel that had created the Palestinian refugee crisis, but rather a nefarious mix of Arab countries, the UN, and corrupt Palestinian leadership. According to Dershowitz, the modern Jewish state could be traced back to the beginnings of the Jewish people, almost four millennia ago. And Israel was not engaging in genocide. On the contrary, the Palestinian population had doubled in just the past twenty years.

All of this only made him more angry. He decided he would go to Israel, the home of his enemy, and prove Dershowitz wrong. He would be mistreated in Israel because he was Muslim, validated in his truth, and then move forward with his plan to join a terrorist group and kill Jews.

The trip did not go according to plan.

Welcome to Israel

“What is the purpose of your visit?” the passport control officer asked him upon his arrival at Ben Gurion Airport.

“I used to be antisemitic and anti-Israel,” he said in all honesty. “Now, I’m not really sure. So I thought I’d come see it for myself.” The answer understandably resulted in an encounter with Israeli security—a full eight hours, where he was not only treated respectfully, but was also supplied with coffee and meals, as much as he wanted. It was a first step toward humanizing the Jew, but it wasn’t enough to undo years of indoctrination.

His first stop after being released from the airport was Jerusalem, where he fully expected to see an apartheid state, complete with Jewish-only buses and Arab-only stores. Instead, he saw all manner of people, including Arab Israelis, Jewish Israelis, Orthodox priests, and women, with and without headscarves, all peaceably going about life. He saw synagogues, mosques, and churches. He spoke with Jews, Christians, and Muslims of multiple nationalities and even visited the Palestinian territories. After several weeks on the ground, one thing became inescapably clear. Everything he saw contradicted everything he had believed. He had been lied to about everything.

He returned to the UK thoroughly disillusioned. Now what?

The Search for a Belief System

He abandoned religion and belief in God altogether and started identifying as an atheist. It was 2007, the era of New Atheism, and he read books by the likes of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. But there was an arrogance to them that didn’t sit well with him, especially given how juvenile their arguments were. Also, the notion that the entire world had randomly come into existence by accident—an inevitable tenet of atheism—didn’t make sense to him either. Anyone who’d ever assembled Ikea furniture knew things didn’t just put themselves together.

So he started exploring other faiths—Hindu, Sikh, Buddhism, Judaism—everything but Christianity. Having grown up in the UK, he’d known people who considered themselves Christians, but most of them never went to church or opened their Bibles, if they even owned one. As a former Muslim, he’d experienced how Islam was a way of life that Muslims took seriously. From what he’d seen of Christianity, it looked more like a hobby than a way of life.

A Voice for Israel

This went on for years, and while he didn’t know what to believe religiously, he did feel he had a moral obligation to speak out on behalf of Israel. This conviction led to tensions with his family and home community, and he eventually moved to Canada. Meanwhile, he was contacted by an organization called Christians United for Israel (CUFI). Someone had seen an article he’d written about decisions being debated in England related to Israel. Would he be interested in going on a speaking tour?

He would travel in California, along with Holocaust survivor Irving Roth and an Israeli Greek Orthodox priest. Together they would speak about the need for Christians to reject antisemitism and support Israel. He was at first ambivalent, but it was late winter in Winnipeg, and the idea did have a certain, well, sunny appeal. What did he have to lose? He accepted.

It turned out to be a surprisingly positive experience. He met Roth and others, many of whom would become good friends. Moreover, for the first time in his life, he saw Christians who lived out their faith. They prayed before meals and even before speaking events. Their faith was integral to who they were, not just something they did on Sundays or holidays here and there. He remained vague about his own spiritual leanings, and so he was understandably perceived as being Muslim, but he was welcomed respectfully and hospitably, and the warm treatment left a real mark.

Within the year, he was offered a full-time job with CUFI, which he heartily accepted, but not without only half-jokingly delimiting some expectations. Look, I’ve decided to work here, but this isn’t going to be one of those “he comes to Jesus” kind of things, okay?

That was okay with them. Nevertheless, working and traveling with Christians began to have an effect.

“You Can’t Run Anymore”

One night, he was up late in a hotel room. Normally, he brought books to read during down time, but this time he didn’t have anything with him. He opened the drawer in the nightstand, and there sat a Bible. He started reading. After an hour or so, he looked up. What am I doing? This is all so cliché.

The following day, while he was waiting for a connection at an overcrowded airport, a man approached. “Do you mind if I sit here?” Kasim looked around. The seat next to him was literally the only available seat in sight. The man was a missionary on his way to the Balkans. They talked for some time, and he gave Kasim some information about his work.

After he returned home, one chance encounter followed another until he finally took a pause and reflected. His life wasn’t bad. He had good friends and enjoyed his work. Still, he knew something was off.

You can’t run anymore, he said to himself. You’ve got to accept Jesus.

And simple as that, that’s what he did. He verbally said it out loud. The moment he did, it felt as if he’d stepped out of a prison cell he’d been living in, unwittingly, all his life. For the first time ever, he felt free. A few weeks later, he was baptized. The whole turn of events was as unexpected to him as to anyone.

The Makings of a Radical

From the perspective of adulthood, Kasim is better able to reflect on the factors that led him to justify violence. The immigrant community he grew up in wasn’t extremely poor—his parents had moved there specifically for better opportunities. But there was poverty, as well as a general feeling of being outsiders, both culturally and religiously. These elements created a situation ripe for exploitation by outside rabble-rousers only too ready to come in and instill a victimhood mentality, especially in the young.

Although he now knows it’s both a bizarre and a baseless claim, Kasim and others accepted the narrative that said they were oppressed victims of Western society. It was a lie that fostered a sense of hopelessness. They were further told their loyalties should lie with Islam and Islam only—another lie, but it gave the illusion of an identity with which to find solidarity. Blind anger and hatred are easily stirred up. These factors, combined with a steady stream of propagandistic imagery unmitigated by any countervailing explanation, made violence seem justified.

Never Again?

Kasim still works full-time for CUFI. He has spoken all over the world, including at the 2013 Global Forum on Combatting Antisemitism and before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. He has a tattoo on his left arm with the characters A-10491. It’s the same tattoo his friend Irving Roth (d. 2021) had, and it serves as a perpetual reminder of his pledge never to forget and never to remain silent in the face of evil.

In 2020, CUFI produced Never Again?, a moving documentary featuring Kasim and Roth, who was by then ninety years old. Never Again? combines Roth’s story of being taken from his home in Slovakia to Auschwitz at age fourteen with Kasim’s descent into radical antisemitism and how he learned the truth about Israel. The goal is to encourage viewers to reject global antisemitism and blind hatred, but it also subtly bears witness to the power of forgiveness, human brotherhood, and the hope of redemption.

Kasim is now married and living in Florida (living in Canada was a no-go for his Floridian wife), and he’s studying biblical theology so he can share the gospel, especially with Muslims who’ve never been exposed to it. He’s also studying to become a U.S. citizen and feels very patriotic toward his adopted country. “I’m very grateful that when we have children, they will be Americans. No country is perfect, but for all of America’s faults, this country has been so accepting of me. When you ask, what does America look like?, you’ll get 1001 responses because that’s what Americans look like.” He proudly displays the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Gettysburg Address on his wall.

Most of all, he sees hope and joy in Jesus: “We live in a strange time. There’s sadness, and people are angry. But I see hope every day. By faith, I see hope in Jesus Christ. With every negative situation I’ve been in—be it the extremism, the radicalism, or the brainwashing—they create an atmosphere of hopelessness. And that is why the propagators of division and hate are so anti-Jesus. Because in Jesus there is always hope. Even in your darkest day, there is always hope. And that gives me a lot of joy.”

 is Deputy Editor of Salvo and writes on apologetics and matters of faith.

This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #64, Spring 2023 Copyright © 2024 Salvo |


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