Thus said Kasim “Kaz” Hafeez in the final session of the Politics thread at the Big Tent For Israel in Manchester on November 27th.
Kaz was part of a panel discussing “How to change the narrative in the Muslim community”.
He told an enraptured audience how he had very nearly ended up in a Jihadi training camp; how he was brought up to hate Israel and Jews.
Kaz, whose website theisraelcampaign.org, attempts to describe the current anti-Israel and antisemitic trends of Islam in the UK and abroad and put the record straight, made a huge impression on several hundred people, mostly Jewish, assembled in the International Suite of the Piccadilly Hotel in central Manchester.
Even though I knew his story, I was moved to simultaneous tears and laughter as Kaz told us how he is a Zionist and has the Israeli flag on his desk at work.
Tears, because the idea of any non-Jew, let alone a Muslim, proudly declaring himself a Zionist and lover of Israel is profoundly moving. We, the Jewish people, are so inured to hate and being despised that when we find we are not alone, that we have friends, that is worth a few tears of pride and relief.
Laughter, because the idea of a proud, practising Muslim displaying the Israeli flag at work is very amusing.
Then Kaz came out with the quote of the year: “Life is a lot happier when you don’t hate as much”.
Everything is contained in that one phrase; life, love, happiness, toleration, respect.
This perfectly describes the solution to what troubles so much of the world today.
Hate. Unthinking, bigoted, hatred fuels the world’s ills.
Such is the hatred much of the Arab and Muslim world feels, especially for Jews. It is this hatred which drives Islamists to acts of violence, not just against Jews, but against other Muslims, Christians and Hindus.
Are they happy in their hate? I doubt it. How can you be happy to hate?
Hatred is not confined to Muslims. Yet it is Islamist terror and intolerance that characterises the beginning of the 21st century.
Kaz made me cry because he offers hope. He offers hope that Muslims and Jews, Israel and Palestine, can put aside hate and learn tolerance and respect.
It gives me the hope that, in this country, Kaz and those like him, such as Hasan Afzal, can have some influence in their community to stop the hate and lies and half-truths.
If Kaz can do a 180 degree turn, surely many more can manage 90?
How did Kaz learn to be happier? He read, he studied and he had the strength of character and moral courage to go see for himself. He had the honesty to see that everything he had been taught was wrong.
I said to another Muslim at the conference: “We don’t expect Muslims to be Zionists, we just want a fair hearing”. Not the most profound statement I’ve ever made, but it’s true.
Cut the hate and have an honest discussion. Criticise, don’t demonise. Tolerate don’t delegitmise.
It was a great conference and I heard many wonderful things, but Kaz’s simple, heartfelt, unprepared statement will always be the memory and the inspiration I carry from the conference. All the hours, all the hard work, all the arguments and stress were worth it to hear that one axiomatic utterance –
“Life is a lot happier when you don’t hate as much”