Thursday, March 9, 2017

Tea with Hezbollah, by Ted Dekker and Carl Medearis

In Tea with Hezbollah: Sitting at the Enemies' Table, Our Journey Through the Middle East, novelist Ted Dekker and writer Carl Medearis write of their encounters with a variety of individuals whom most Americans would consider enemies of the United States and of Christianity.  The book consists of three interwoven parts: their travelogue, transcripts of their interviews, and a fictional story about an American woman who travels to Lebanon to find her biological father.

The travelogue is the best part of the book.  Dekker is the newbie, with no experience traveling in the Middle East.  Medearis has lived much of his life in the Middle East, and is an expert on Arab-American and Muslim-Christian relations.  As they maneuver through border crossings, travel delays, armed confrontations, and cab rides from hell, it's fun to read their adventures and their contrasting reactions to each experience.

I was indifferent about the story of the American woman.  Dekker's an experienced story teller, but the way he tells this story, interspersed among the other parts of the book, trying to make it sound like a real woman's experience, keeps it on that unsteady threshold between fiction and non-fiction, never teetering all the way into a solid, readable story.

What should be the most substantial and important part of the book, the interviews with leaders of Hezbollah and Hammas, Osama bin Laden's brothers, and Muslim clergymen, turns out to be unenlightening.  Dekker says he wants the interviews to reveal their personal side, like a People magazine profile.  He does that, to an extent, drawing out answers to questions like "When is the last time you cried?" or "What hobbies do you have?"

Dekker and Medearis want to follow Jesus' teaching that we should love our enemies, and that if we don't know our enemies, we can't love them.  I want the same, but I struggle with my Western, American, Christian perception.   Even acknowledging that, I had a hard time reading some of the outright lies and distortions that Dekker and Medearis's interview subjects said.  The authors did not challenge them or engage in debate.  I think the book would have been much more valuable had it engaged some of the real controversies between Muslims and Christians.

But that's not the point of the book, and not Dekker and Medearis's goal.  Based on their interviews, I gather that Muslims, even those who provide intellectual, spiritual, and material ammunition for deadly attacks, enjoy movies, play with their grandchildren, and laugh at funny jokes.  I could have surmised that without traveling to the Middle East.  Also, based on the overall tone of the book, Christians, Jews, and Muslims are all equally responsible for violence in the Middle East.  I'm not a Middle East expert, but I have a feeling some of those Christians who have been beheaded on video would object.  No group is perfect, but it sure seems like the perpetrators of violence tend, more often than not, to be Muslims.  But what do I know, I get my information from the Zionist-controlled media.

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