Let the power of humanity be contagious. Let the humanity prevails.
Zak Ebrahim was only seven years old when, on November 5, 1990, his father, El-Sayyid 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-Sayyid Nosair.”
Ebrahim had to spend his childhood like a nomad moving from city to city, and hiding his identity. Now, he is a peace activist.
The journey that began as “the son of a terrorist” ended at that. Moving forward, Zak Ebrahim chose to turn his life around, and is now known as a peace activist with a single-minded goal: to “make the world a better place for everyone.”
Interviewed by Kumar Saurav, here is the exclusive interview where Zak Ebrahim unveils his dark past, and how he tackled with it and made his journey as an inspiration for one and all. Read on.
A brilliant TED Talk, Zak, so touching that we can listen to it ten times and learn ten different ways, every time. Was everyone as convinced with it as we are, or there were people who judged you?
Before I started speaking six-years-ago I knew that if I ever share my story publicly, some would disagree. And that’s ok. It’s not about everyone agreeing with one another. It’s about finding common grounds and respecting each other. To be able to debate an issue without having to resort to violence in order to compel others to follow your beliefs.
That’s a fair outlook, but since you have experienced so much in life, we wonder if your definition of peace is different from that of ours.
Maybe! My definition of peace is twofold. It is an absence of violence that is essential to raising a peaceful society. But also an abundance of justice where someone who has been treated unjustly can get justice through nonviolent means.
At a time when it’s so easy to radicalise youngsters, even by strangers, you opted against it even though you lived with a ‘radical’ under the same roof. How did you do it?
One of the most important ingredients in radicalising someone is to isolate them from those you wish to make them hate. It took many years to shed the negative stereotypes I was taught as a child, and I could only do it when I interacted with people I was told to hate. A person’s race, religion, sexual orientation etc. had no bearing on the character of that person. We must look at each person’s character individually.
What was the kind of conversation you had with him when you found out about his activities?
I was seven when my dad went to prison. I visited him for many years after that but he always declared his innocence. Because I was so young I never got to have a real face to face discussion with him about his actions and why he chose a terrible path.
What was the first thought that came to your mind when you came to know that your father helped plot the 1993 World Trade Center bombing?
I was shocked that someone could kill innocents in the name of their ideology, it made no sense to me. As a child being radicalised, it was, sadly, easy to hate someone who hated me, but the killing was inexcusable. For once I thought I did not know my father at all. I was also incredibly saddened because at the time I believed my father was not guilty for Meir Kahane ‘s (American-Israeli rabbi) assassination for which he received 22 years in prison during the initial trial. I believed he would someday return home and we could be a family again. However, because of his involvement in the WTC trial, he received a life sentence without the possibility of a parole and I knew our family would never be together again outside of a prison cell.
How was the night when the WTC bombings happened?
The bombings took place in the afternoon of Feb 26, 1993. I was almost ten, and was home sick from school that day. I was watching TV when the news flashed. I spent much of that afternoon watching the coverage, but I wouldn’t know until much later that my father had any involvement.
Did it, at any point of time, occur to you that peace will be a tough choice for you and your family?
I knew it would be difficult. But often times the easy choice is not the best one.
Have you ever tried to find out what drew your dad to extremism, or what draws so many youngsters to terrorism?
For years, I have tried to understand what compelled my father to resort to violence. Was he doing it for revenge? For fame? Did he think about how his actions would affect his family or the innocent people he planned to hurt? Unfortunately, I was never able to get clear answers from him so I can only speculate as to why he chose the path he did. I think people, especially young people, can be radicalised because they are searching for a purpose in their life. Groups like ISIS attract young people who want to feel a part of something greater than themselves. Unfortunately, these groups take advantage of that feeling and brainwash the youth into thinking they are doing something good. When, in fact, they are just tools for men like Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi to gain more power.
What’s the point of blaming your father? He loved you! Maybe not the world.
My family was nearly destroyed because of my father’s actions. He left my family alone to deal with death threats, poverty and instability. And he did so in a terrible and tragic fashion. I was lucky that I had such a strong mother to keep our family together. Speaking publicly about my story was not to blame my father. It was to show people that even from hatred peace can grow. That the cycle of violence can be broken.
Do you feel society led to his choice of deeds?
We are responsible for the choices we make. Sadly, my dad chose the wrong path.
People are not as brave as you are Zak; we are so scared of the dark chapters of our lives that we don’t even remind ourselves of them. So why did you decide to come out in public with your story?
I do not consider myself courageous. I felt that people could benefit from hearing my story and the lessons that I learned from them. The beautiful thing about it is that by sharing my story publicly, it helped me to overcome many of the challenges I faced as a result of my father’s actions. I get to work with people every day, they come from all sorts of backgrounds and experiences. All with one common goal: To make the world a better place for EVERYONE. That is a gift. One I am incredibly grateful to have. It really is so motivating getting to see every day the effort that so many people around the world are putting in for the sake of all of the humanity. That is why my advice to anyone is to get involved!
Excerpt from his book, “The Terrorist’s Son: A Story Of Choice“:
“I’m convinced that empathy is more powerful than hate and that our lives should be dedicated to making it go viral.”
I read. I write. A threat to humor, if one liners could kill. Twitter: @profylayush
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