Sunday, 1 July 2012

Kill and Tell

On Friday I downloaded the Kindle version of Tass Saada’s Once an Arafat Man immediately after it was recommended to me by a colleague. I read it virtually in a single sitting on Saturday.

‘Once an Arafat man. . .’ always an Arafat man? Well not in Tass Saada’s case at any rate. Saada was born into a Muslim family in Gaza in early 1951. He grew up in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and following the ignominious defeat of the Arab forces by Israel in the Six Day War in 1967 he and two of his chums quietly bunked off to Damascus to join the PLO. According to the book, before he was out of his teens Saada was a trained sniper, Yasser Arafat’s chauffer and had met Osama bin Laden. I have to admit to a degree of scepticism when I started reading the book but as I made my way through it I sensed it had a ring of truth about it. Once an Arafat Man is no prurient, self-glorifying kill-and-tell story. Unlike some Christian testimonies, Once an Arafat Man doesn’t major on Saada’s pre-Christian life. Apart from his account of a PLO ambush of Israeli forces at al-Karameh in chapter 1, Saada supplies little detail about his time in the PLO.

Although his conversion was dramatic, Saada deals with it briefly. The purpose of his book is to explain how an extremely angry young Muslim man was turned from hatred to love.

Although I don’t care for the staccato writing style of the book, it is an important publication for a number of reasons. First of all, drawing on his experience of life in Saudi Arabia, Saada demonstrates that the Palestinians are regarded with contempt by many in the Arab world.

Second, according to the received western, liberal, left-wing opinion, America and the West are to blame for Islamic terrorism, not least the atrocity of 9/11/2011. The Islamic world declares the USA to be the ‘Great Satan,’ a doctrine Tass Saada imbibed and believed until he arrived in America and experienced nothing but kindness and friendship.

Third, in contrast to the current vogue among Christian theologians to spiritualise the promises made to Israel in the Hebrew Scriptures and transfer them wholesale to the Church, Saada accepts those promises at face value. The ‘Christ at the Checkpoint’ conferences, though ostensibly about peace and reconciliation, appear to have fomented conflict and division by exporting to the Middle East a western political theory dressed up as theology; a liberation theology that was responsible for great suffering in Central and South America during the 1970s and 1980s.

Fourth, Saada’s love for his own people has not diminished, even though he sees the inherently evil nature of Islam. In 2001, Saada and his American wife Karen launched ‘Hope for Ishmael’ ministries, to bring hope and reconciliation between Arabs and Jews through education, cultural understanding and faith in the Jewish Messiah. Tass and Karen are convinced that peace between Arabs and Jews can be achieved only when individuals have a heart change; political solutions will not last.

Fifth, he presents a helpful biblical perspective of the Arab nations that extreme Christian Zionists need to consider.

Last, he recounts his last meeting with Yasser Arafat, at which he shared the gospel with the PLO leader. Some time later, an Egyptian evagelist told Tass that he too had met Arafat, that he shared the gospel with him and led him in saying 'the sinner's prayer'. Stranger things have happened. . .

I recommend this book highly. Along with Son of Hamas, Once an Arafat Man should be read by everyone who wants to understand the conflict between Jews and Palestinians and the solution to it. Buy it here.

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