Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tea with Hezbollah by Ted Dekker & Carl Medearis

book cover

Tea with Hezbollah
by Ted Dekker and Carl Medearis

Hardback: 247 pages
Publisher: Doubleday Religion
First Released: 2010

Book page on publisher website

Source: Review copy from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.

Back Cover Description (slightly modified):
Do Muslims think it's possible to love one’s enemies? Are Muslims--our "Samaritans"--doing a better job of it than us in America/Canada?

That’s the question that sparked a fascinating and, at times, terrifying journey into the heart of the Middle East during the summer of 2008. It was a trip that began in Egypt, passed beneath the steel and glass high rises of Saudi Arabia, then wound through the bullet-pocked alleyways of Beirut and dusty streets of Damascus, before ending at the cradle of the world’s three major religions: Jerusalem.

Readers join novelist Ted Dekker and his co-author and Middle East expert, Carl Medearis, on a hair-raising journey--in every rocky cab ride, late-night border crossing, and back-room conversation as they sit down one-on-one with some of the most notorious leaders of the Arab world. These candid discussions with leaders of Hezbollah and Hamas, with muftis, sheikhs, and ayatollahs, with Osama bin Laden’s brothers, reveal these men to be real people with emotions, fears, and hopes of their own. Along the way, Dekker and Medearis discover surprising answers and even more surprising questions that they could not have anticipated—questions that lead straight to the heart of Middle Eastern conflict.

Frankly, I think the authors missed the point of Jesus' teachings. It wasn't that, if we're failing to "love our enemies," we should look to the enemies for answers because they understand how to do it better than we do. But that's how they took the "good Samaritan" parable.

Tea with Hezbollah was a travelogue of the Middle East (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria, Israel) filled with mundane sight-seeing, historical information about the area, and interviews with influential Muslims and commoners. Americans who only know what the newspapers or TV news says about the area will learn new information, but I found most of it rather superficial. Dekker put his experience in writing fiction into making this book an easy and exciting read.

A short history was given for each area, but unfortunately I spotted a number of errors throughout these sections and some parts, like the first part of the tale of Baalbek, were highly speculative to the point of being unreliable. His conclusion in Saudi Arabia that women rule the country from behind the doors would probably make Qanta A. Ahmed laugh.

Most of the interviews were very short and superficial. Only one or two had any length or contained anything of importance--and I had a feeling that one of the ones with substance was kept mainly because it had all the exciting elements of a novel.

Since the authors felt that all war and conflict would disappear if we knew "the enemy" on a personal level, the following questions were the focus of the book's interview transcripts: "What kinds of things make you laugh? What is your favorite joke? What does your wife/children/grandchildren do that makes you laugh? Do you have any hobbies? What is your favorite movie? What makes you sad? What would you say are American's greatest misconceptions of Muslims? And what are Muslims' greatest misconceptions of America? When asked what his most important teaching was, Jesus answered that it was to love the Lord your God with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself. And to love your enemies. Are you familiar with this teaching?"

So a reader learns a lot about their personal tastes, a couple sentences per interview about what Muslims think about Americans, and a couple sentences about how Muslims view Jesus and Mary and the idea of loving your enemies. You only get a glimpse of what the Qur'an teaches about Isa (Jesus) from these interviews since the focus was mainly on the similarities between the teachings of Jesus in the Bible and the teachings of Isa and Mohammad in the Qur'an.

The authors constantly criticized Christianity. They stated their faith in God but referred to Jesus as a man, a great teacher, and lumped him in with Martin Luther King and Gandhi. They also stated that they don't like being called Christians, and Dekker seemed to view organized religion (including Christianity) as the cause of all war and conflict.

Basically, I don't recommend this book if you're looking for a deeper understanding of what it means to love your enemy. They never find an answer. And there are better books on understanding the conflict in the Middle East.

Before I read the book and when I thought it was something entirely different, I agreed to give away one copy of this book. If you would like this book, leave a comment saying so and include a way for me to contact you. I'll pick a winner on Feb. 2nd at noon.

Excerpt from Chapter One
"Tell me, Ted," said my good friend, "what is one thing Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and Jesus have in common?"

I thought for a moment. "They were all murdered?"

"Actually, that's right. And they all died for the same message, at least in large part. So, what was that message?"

"Tell me."

"To love your neighbor. Even if they're the enemy."

I nodded. "They make us all look like hypocrites. Is it really possible to love your enemy?"

We both fell into a few moments of introspection. Then Carl looked up with bright eyes.

"Why don't we find out?"


"Seriously." That word. "Why don't we go to this country's greatest so-called enemies and ask them what they think about this scandalous teaching."

"The Middle East?"

"Not just the Middle East. The Hamas, the Hezbollah. The greatest minds and influencers in Islam."

"And ask them what they think of Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and Jesus?"

"Well, it's a thought. The parable of the Samaritan is probably the most famous teaching on loving your neighbors. Muslims revere Jesus, who gave the teaching. We could start with that."

He actually was serious.

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