The Fox HuntBy: Mohammed Al SamawiGenre: Non-fiction, Memoir, Religion, War, Politics, Non-WesternRating: 4.5 starsRelease Date: April 10, 2018
Publisher: William MarrowSynopsis:
A young man’s moving story of war, friendship, and hope in which he recounts his harrowing escape from a brutal civil war in Yemen with the help of a daring plan engineered on social media by a small group of interfaith activists in the West.
Born in the Old City of Sana’a, Yemen, to a pair of middle-class doctors, Mohammed Al Samawi was a devout Muslim raised to think of Christians and Jews as his enemy. But when Mohammed was twenty-three, he secretly received a copy of the Bible, and what he read cast doubt on everything he’d previously believed. After connecting with Jews and Christians on social media, and at various international interfaith conferences, Mohammed became an activist, making it his mission to promote dialogue and cooperation in Yemen.
Then came the death threats: first on Facebook, then through terrifying anonymous phone calls. To protect himself and his family, Mohammed fled to the southern port city of Aden. He had no way of knowing that Aden was about to become the heart of a north-south civil war, and the battleground for a well-funded proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. As gunfire and grenades exploded throughout the city, Mohammed hid in the bathroom of his apartment and desperately appealed to his contacts on Facebook.
Miraculously, a handful of people he barely knew responded. Over thirteen days, four ordinary young people with zero experience in diplomacy or military exfiltration worked across six technology platforms and ten time zones to save this innocent young man trapped between deadly forces— rebel fighters from the north and Al Qaeda operatives from the south.
The story of an improbable escape as riveting as the best page-turning thrillers, The Fox Hunt reminds us that goodness and decency can triumph in the darkest circumstances.
This book was a very powerful, relatable, insightful and moving experience. When I sat down to attempt to pave the direction I wanted for this review, I found there were so many points that Mohammed touched on that I remember disusing during my university days in my Literature, Humanities, History, Sociology and Anthropology classes.
So many things that I have talked about with friends and thought or considered myself when it comes to those lines drawn between cultures, religions, and continents that surprisingly give birth to assumptions grown from the barren roots of ignorance.
As Mohammed describes his life growing up in Yemen and how he accidentally found himself reading and enjoying the Old Testament or Torah, the very book of the people/religion he was raised and taught to hate; the existential crisis he begins to experience from his confusion, urge to know, learn more and connect to others outside the small bubble, in a sense, that he has lived his entire life was compelling to read about.
And while he admits to understanding the isolation/almost manipulation that Yemenis have grown up on, I think that the entire world is guilty of this as the years stretch on and the truths of the past and current truths of the world that we aren’t fully aware of or interested in knowing. Better yet, interested in questioning.
In Mohammed’s case, he struggles with this new insight he’s learned on this quest to better understand, get answers and truths to his questions, even if it means continuing to deconstruct all he has ever known, learned and believed. Even before his eyes grazed the pages of the Old Testament, his unanswered questions and curiosity on the customs of his culture from sound judgment, marriage and deeds of kindness laid dormant within him.
I admire the way he stays resound in his choice and right not to denounce Allah, but chooses to not let being Muslim close himself off to the rest of the world as his society and government have enforced.
To me, there seemed to be a recurring theme built with each chapter in this book on human nature.
People are not born inherently evil. “The most merciful shows mercy to those who have mercy on others. Show mercy to those on Earth, and the One above the heaven will show mercy to you.” [21:107, Quran] (page 25)
In between and prior to Mohammed finding himself right in the center of the Civil War out break between the North [The Houthis] and the South [the AQAP generally] in Yemen–that started in 2015 and is still ongoing. He talked about his days growing up, disabled from an illness left untreated as a child, the bullying he received in school and at home by his older brother and neighborhood kids.
He talked about the shock he felt by the welcoming of others in his first Interfaith conference with YaLa Leaders from strangers from all over the world. About the nearly immediate and consistent chain of understanding, help, friendship and aide from some of the very same people (and others he did not know) that helped to save his life on the nearly month-long journey to get out of Arden and eventually out of Yemen and to the United States.
This book depicts his life in Yemen and the dangers of the war and the terribly inhabitable conditions the millions of innocent and trapped Yemenis currently face. But it also emulates Mohammed’s bravery in his pursuit and effort he tries to achieve even though he is now in the United States. As well as the deadly risks he brought into his life when he took up activism.
Even after learning the extent to which his country was cut off from the rest of the world and knowing the dangers he faced with his own people and his own family just by talking/befriending Jewish people and Americans and advocating for interfaith/interconnected peace; Mohammed continue[d]s his work because something within him compels him to do so.
Never mind the ever present north-south/Zaidi Shi’a-led militia vs Al Qaeda push/shove power struggle and resentment that has been so deeply rooted in the hearts and sands of Yemen for decades. Honestly, I have to admit that I felt for Mohammed’s cause and desperation to help his people, but it was and is a bigger challenge for any one to attempt alone.
I enjoyed the insight and perspective this book afforded me and I enjoyed reading about Mohammed’s story as well. It is definitely a book I would recommend to others to read as well.
About the Author:
Mohammed Al Samawi was born in 1986 in Yemen. In his midtwenties, he became involved in interfaith groups promoting dialogue between Muslims, Christians, and Jews. In 2015, during the Yemeni Civil War, he fled from Aden to the United States. Since his entry to the United States, he has worked for several NGOs that promote peace and religious tolerance.
Follow him on Twitter.