Levinson, Adam Valen. “The Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah: Fear and Love in the Modern Middle East “, W.W. Norton, 2017.
Exploring Muslim Lands
Adam Valen Levinson is a very brave young man. He has taken college courses in Arabic and is very curious so he decides to try to understand the world that we have grown to fear since 9/11. From a base in globalized and sterilized Abu Dhabi, he decides to have lunch in Taliban territory in Afghanistan. He travels under the eye of Syria’s secret police, risks shipwreck en route to Somalia, investigates Yazidi beliefs in a sacred cave, cliff dives in Oman, celebrates New Year’s Eve in Tahrir Square, and, at every turn, discovers places that do not match their reputations. He crosses borders while joking and seeks common interests with his “bros” everywhere. He finds that people who pray differently often laugh the same. He slowly learns how childish it is to live by decisions and distinctions born of fear.
His book is beautifully written and is funny and sad and analytical. The Middle East is a wonderful place—I lived there for many years—- but it is also supernatural and hard to describe to those who have not been there. Levinson, however, does so beautifully. He is able to bring together cultural immersion with personal reflection and makes this an entertaining true story. In effect, he gives us a primer about some of the darkest countries in the world. We see that there is little in the world today that is foreign. He brings the Middle East closer to us and as he does, he pushes away hatred and fear farther away by ignoring the clichés. What he finds is a humanity much deeper than expected. He shares aspects of his destinations’ histories with journalistic observations and personal thoughts and emotions . This is a well-written introspective look at Muslim countries that is filled with humanity and humor.
We do not often get the story of a young Jewish American man who throws himself in danger’s way as he explores the world of Islam. His experiences give insights into the reasons why the Middle East is so confusing to those of us in the western world.