Judaic scholar speaks on cultural ignorance
On Thursday, Students for Accuracy about Israeli and Palestinian Affairs hosted Judaic scholar and activist Hussein Aboubakr to speak about the “Perceptions of Israel in the Arab World.”
Aboubakr spoke about being forced out of Egypt as a political refugee while studying Jewish and Middle Eastern history and Hebrew literature at the Faculty of Arts and Oriental Studies Department at Cairo University. He is a member of JIMENA: Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa, an organization based in San Francisco.
Aboubakr, who was born in Cairo and was raised in an Arab Muslim family, said that as a young child he was taught “how Jews are descendants of apes and pigs, how [at] the end of the world there will be a battle [in] which all Muslims have to kill all the Jews and Jews will hide behind rocks and trees.”
Aboubakr told the audience how his mother disapproved of violent video games but would allow him to see news reports about Jews being killed. On Sept. 11, 2001, Aboubakr’s family was having dinner when they heard of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. “Everyone was rejoicing” said Aboubakr.
Aboubakr said learning new languages fascinated him. Aboubakr started learning Hebrew “to be able to decipher [the Jews’] evil platform of world of destruction.” He started learning English online, as well. Through his research, he started learning about Jewish history, Judaism, the world and other narratives.
He described contacting the Israeli Embassy at Cairo during his time in college, also discussing the first conversation he had with a Jew.
“We are all humans. We are all people. And I started to relate and see the bigger picture,” Aboubakr told the audience.
Aboubakr started writing about the oppression of Christians and women and the meaning of injustice through studying anti-Semitism, he said. After leaving the Israeli Academic Center, the State Police interrogated him and were suspicious of his first time visit to the Israeli Embassy.
Aboubakr also described receiving a threatening call from the Egyptian State Security, who informed him that they were aware of his interactions with the Israeli embassy and told him they would prefer if he studied another subject.
Aboubakr described the call as “My first clash with anyone ever. I never clashed with anybody,” and noted his decision to fight back.
“I was a different person than my entire family and my society because of my studies,” he said. “This redefined me.”
Aboubakr started a blog and wrote about his experience, which later prompted an Israeli journalist to contact him and help him publish an article in Yediot Ahronot, an Israeli newspaper. After the publication came out, the State Security arrested Aboubakr and took him to an interrogation center in Giza.
After a series of arrests, Aboubakr was arrested on his first day of training for Egypt’s mandatory military service.
According to Aboubakr, the officers in the military prison accused him of being an Israeli spy, a Jewish convert, cursed him and called him “Jew-lover, pig, traitor.”
On Dec. 26, 2010, after three months of torture and interrogation, Aboubakr was released from prison only to be confronted with the Arab Spring a month later.
Aboubakr described to the audience the crowds of people marching in the street against the “same government that tortured me, the same government that ruined my life. I joined them.”
“I was starting to be aware [of] the bigger political picture,” he said. “Its religious oppression, its political oppression, its economic oppression. It’s a great totalitarian ideology of dictatorships, of political refugees.”
Aboubakr was forced to depart Egypt as a political refugee and arrived in the United States in 2012.
“I was able to turn the unhealthy obsession with the Jews into something productive” by teaching Hebrew and “doing things that everyone stopped me from doing—my family, my country, my society, my government,” he said.
Aboubakr ended the event by saying “We have a problem in the world. … We have a big portion of the world, a big chunk, dominated by very bad ideas,” he said. “I ask you to be aware … and educate others because ignorance is also coming here.”