The Terrorist's Son: A Story of Choice
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Date: September 2014
Duration: 2 hours 25 minutes
What is it like to grow up with a terrorist in your home? Zak Ebrahim was only seven years old when, on November 5th, 1990, his father El-Sayed Nosair shot and killed the leader of the Jewish Defense League. While in prison, Nosair helped plan the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. In one of his infamous video messages, Osama bin Laden urged the world to Remember El-Sayed Nosair.
For Zak Ebrahim, a childhood amongst terrorists was all he knew. He was raised, he tells the reader, in a "bigoted home that made him wary of outsiders, everything around him re-enforced isolation and hate. After his father's incarceration, his family moved often, and as the perpetual new kid in class, he faced constant teasing and exclusion.Yet, though his radicalized father and uncles modeled fanatical beliefs, to Ebrahim something never felt right. To the shy, awkward boy, something about the hateful feelings just felt unnatural.
Because he was often bullied, Ebrahim discovered he naturally felt empathy for the suffering of others. Slowly, something in him began to change. Ironically, it was the talk show host Jon Stewart who first opened his eyes through his unflinching brand of satirical comedy. Then it was a job at the amusement park, Busch Gardens, where the gay performers embraced the shy kid. Finally, when Ebrahim unknowingly befriended a Jewish kid at a youth convention, he began to realize his father's teachings were utterly misguided. The older he got, the more fully Ebrahim understood the horrific depths of the violence his father perpetrated. The more he understood, the more deeply he resolved to dedicate his life to promoting peace.
In The Terrorist's Son, Ebrahim dispels the myth that terrorism is a foregone conclusion for people trained to hate. Based on his own remarkable journey, he shows that hate is always a choice, and so is tolerance. Though Ebrahim was subjected to a violent, intolerant ideology throughout his childhood, he did not become radicalized. Terrorist groups tap into certain vulnerabilities that are usually circumstantial: poverty, oppression, disenfranchisement, lack of resources and options. Ebrahim shows how those same vulnerabilities can create great strengths, leading people to form great reserves of empathy and tolerance. He believes that, because we all have a deep capacity for empathy, humans have the choice, and can find the will, to reject negative ideology. Ebrahim argues, perhaps counter-intuitively, that people conditioned to be terrorists are actually perfectly positioned to combat terrorism, because of their ability to bring disparate, seemingly incompatible ideologies together in conversation and ultimately, be incredibly strong voices in the fight for peace.