Al Samawi, Mohammed. “The Fox Hunt: A Refugee’s Memoir of Coming to America”, William Morrow, 2018.
““Four strangers. Three faiths. One Extraordinary Escape to Freedom”
Mohammed Al Samawi tells his story in the first-person. He is a young Muslim man from Yemen who, with the help of a group of largely Jewish activists on social media, engineered a harrowing escape from the Yemeni Civil War.
Al Samawi was born on November 30, 1986, in the Old City of Sana’a. His parents are both doctors and they make up a comfortably middle-class family. Mohammed was raised in the Zaydism sect of Shi’a Islam and taught-by both his family and the ruling class of Yemen that Jews were and still are responsible for everything wrong with the world (from sex scenes in movies to the depreciation of Yemen’s currency). However, when he turned 21, everything changed. He had been secretly given a copy of the Bible, and suddenly, everything he believed about Jews was now questionable. He started to reach out to Jews over Facebook, joined a peace-building organization, and began traveling to interfaith conferences outside of Yemen. It did not take long before he began to receive death threats, and was forced to flee to the Southern port city of Aden. When Aden suddenly became the center of the civil war that broke out in spring 2015, Mohammed’s life was in grave danger. As he hid in the bathroom of his apartment, he could hear the rifles and the shots below. He sent out a desperate prayer to his social media network. Soon four young people with no experience in international diplomacy or the military worked across six technology platforms and ten time zones to save Mohammed’s life during a horrifying 13-day ordeal. This is the unforgettable story of faith, compassion, and redemption.
We hear a lot about human tragedy but we seldom here about it from those directly involved. Yemen has seen some very rough times and now one of the refugees speaks up about what he was forced to endure. From the very first sentence, I was drawn into the words and the world of Mohammed Al Sawami. We often forget that we all share common threads of existence and in forgetting we lose sight of the humanity that is within us all. This story is particularly relevant because of what is happening all over the world today and it is so good to see here, in a story of international intrigue, that there can be and it cross-cultural cooperation. We are all aware of the driving social change in the Arab world and that the stakes are very high— in Mohammed’s case, they were life-threatening. I have read many memoirs in my life but this is one that is the story of a life and a thriller, realizing that the ending could have been so very different. It is not enough that Mohammed’s escape is inspiring. What is more inspiring is that he is determined to continue to work for international peace and understanding.
This personal account shows us that peace comes in small increments and because of those committed individuals who worked so hard to achieve it. Mohammed’s odyssey through Yemen and through identity, religion and power is one to be relished. He was taught to hate those who are not like him, namely Jews, Americans and Christians. It was only when, on his own, he began to see the boundaries of his culture up against what he had been taught about other religions and peoples that he understood that he had a mission and that was to foster interfaith understanding. This put him in great danger and we see that his story is one of international friendship and human decency. He had to find out how to attain these as the world around him was dealing with war, hatred, ignorance and violence. He was very lucky that four ordinary young people were able to forge a chain of connections that then scoured an informal network of contacts (aid workers, government officials, ex-military and even members of the United States Senate) who came together to gain him out of Yemen. And this was done in just thirteen days.
Mohammed arrived in America on May 2015 and has remained involved in interfaith work. He shares his story of personal transformation with religious groups and academic institutions all over America. I cannot stress enough how moving this story is and what a wonderful as well. The book has been optioned by2000 Pictures, with Marc Platt Productions (La La Land, Bridge of Spies) producing, and Josh Singer (Oscar-winning screenwriter of Spotlight) adapting for the screen.