Speaker in Pembroke seeks to shed light on the ongoing war in Gaza

Mohamed Defaa at the Jaffrey Public Library in 2017.

Mohamed Defaa at the Jaffrey Public Library in 2017. File photo


Monitor staff 

Published: 05-13-2024 5:18 PM

For years, lecturer Mohamed Defaa has sought to demystify the social, cultural and historical complexities surrounding the Middle East for Western audiences.

Then, on Oct. 7 of last year, this combustible region, already a difficult subject to completely grasp, became more inflamed, adding another layer to the presentations that Defaa has been giving for two decades.

Suddenly, after the deadly ambush by Hamas across the border into Israel seven months ago, followed by the Israeli’s unrestrained response, Defaa has changed his lesson plan, consolidating it to the current war between the two groups, in a land with thousands of years of conflict.

He’ll unveil his post-Oct. 7 seminar on May 15 at the Pembroke Town Library. The event, sponsored by the Friends of the Pembroke Library and subsidized by New Hampshire Humanities, starts at 7 p.m. and is free.

Defaa, 58, is a Moroccan native and follower of Islam. He moved here 23 years ago and is an adjunct lecturer at Southern New Hampshire University, specializing in Arabic and French. He adds context and background to provide students with a wider picture of the region and its history.

He pulled no punches when he named his presentation – The Middle East: A Geopolitical Mess.

Defaa plans to avoid pointing fingers. Instead, he’ll focus on the olive branch he’s been extending for 20 years, simply by educating people on a dispute that became the world’s problem once Israel declared its independence in 1948, displacing thousands of Palestinians.

He called terrorist organizations like Hamas “ticking time bombs, people who do not have the same standards and ways of looking at human life than what the West thinks. They don’t fight by the same rules.”

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Striking a balance, Defaa was critical of Israel’s counterattack, which has killed Palestinian civilians, left Gaza in ruins and created a snapshot of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a barbarian.

“If the president of the United States says this is not wise,” Defaa said, “and students at universities and in classes, from the right to the left, are saying stop because it will then be a worse crisis, that means it is not the right thing to do. Netanyahu has an agenda that only he understands.”

The Oct. 7 massacre was the worst attack on Israel since its creation in 1948, leaving more Jewish people dead in a single day since the Holocaust.

Their biblical history of persecution coupled with the Nazi’s attempt to exterminate the Jews has left Israelis with insecurities and fear that remain today and will continue. 

Palestinians have bristled against Israeli occupation that affects their basic freedoms, and the heavy-handed military might of their neighbor. 

Defaa sees both sides, which has led to his speaking engagements. 

“I provide background, not the answer to the question about what is going on,” he said. “Let people decide for themselves, but I provide enough to let people make their own opinion. It’s a very difficult situation, and it requires education.”

He said his Muslim faith has, for the most part, been accepted by Jewish people as he’s traveled to speak and open minds.

He’s wary when he’s asked to speak, however, realizing that in some cases, individuals want to use him as a pawn.

“A smoke screen for me to talk about Islam,” Defaa said. “Most of the time, people email me or stay after a presentation for a conversation later. They’ll ask about a book I’ve written or an author, and I try to explain that ignorance is a human thing. Education plays an important role.”

Some people shout and get nasty and show signs of Islamophobia. 

That might prompt Defaa to ask the person questions about their knowledge of religion and people who are associated with violence. He asks how many Muslims the individual knows and how many books they’ve read about Islam. 

“None is what they answer,” Defaa said.

He also asks if the person has read the Quran, which explains that Islam, at its roots, is a peaceful religion. 

“The Quran ,” Defaa said, “is a book that 1½ billion humans (read), and that means it’s a worthy read just out of respect.

“Same as the Bible and the Torah.”