Character: Build It Here
Between Love and Hate
Hatred is simply defined as extreme dislike or ill will. Love is defined as an intense feeling of deep affection that moves one toward goodwill. Both are action words. Neither emotional state can remain expressionless. Under cultivation and given the opportunity, one or the other will exert its power. And mysteriously, there are times when one can be sowed, and the other comes to harvest. Let Zak Ebrahim explain this phenomenon.
I had heard about Zak a few months ago when I saw the preview of his T.E.D. talk and looked over the introduction to his book, The Terrorist’s Son. A Story of Choice. This week, his entire talk (nine riveting minutes), is posted on the T.E.D. homepage.
Zak’s father, El-Sayyid Nosair, was the mastermind behind the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York. Prior to that, his father assassinated Rabbi Meir Kahane, the leader of the Jewish Defense League. Zak courageously tells his story of growing up in a household of hate. Here are some of the highlights:
I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1983 to him, an Egyptian engineer, and a loving American mother and grade school teacher, who together tried their best to create a happy childhood for me. It wasn't until I was seven years old that our family dynamic started to change. My father exposed me to a side of Islam that few people, including the majority of Muslims, get to see. It's been my experience that when people take the time to interact with one another, it doesn't take long to realize that for the most part, we all want the same things out of life. However, in every religion, in every population, you'll find a small percentage of people who hold so fervently to their beliefs that they feel they must use any means necessary to make others live as they do.
By the time I turned 19, I had already moved 20 times in my life, and that instability during my childhood didn't really provide an opportunity to make many friends. Each time I would begin to feel comfortable around someone, it was time to pack up and move to the next town. Being the perpetual new face in class, I was frequently the target of bullies. I kept my identity a secret from my classmates to avoid being targeted, but as it turns out, being the quiet, chubby new kid in class was more than enough ammunition. So for the most part, I spent my time at home reading books and watching TV or playing video games. For those reasons, my social skills were lacking, to say the least, and growing up in a bigoted household, I wasn't prepared for the real world. I'd been raised to judge people based on arbitrary measurements, like a person's race or religion.
So what opened my eyes? One of my first experiences that challenged this way of thinking was during the 2000 presidential elections. Through a college prep program, I was able to take part in the National Youth Convention in Philadelphia. My particular group's focus was on youth violence, and having been the victim of bullying for most of my life, this was a subject in which I felt particularly passionate. The members of our group came from many different walks of life. One day toward the end of the convention, I found out that one of the kids I had befriended was Jewish. Now, it had taken several days for this detail to come to light, and I realized that there was no natural animosity between the two of us. I had never had a Jewish friend before, and frankly I felt a sense of pride in having been able to overcome a barrier that for most of my life I had been led to believe was insurmountable.
Then there was "The Daily Show." On a nightly basis, Jon Stewart forced me to be intellectually honest with myself about my own bigotry and helped me to realize that a person's race, religion or sexual orientation had nothing to do with the quality of one's character. He was in many ways a father figure to me when I was in desperate need of one. Inspiration can often come from an unexpected place, and the fact that a Jewish comedian had done more to positively influence my worldview than my own extremist father is not lost on me.
Zak Ebrahim is not my real name. I changed it when my family decided to end our connection with my father and start a new life. So why would I out myself and potentially put myself in danger? Well, that's simple. I do it in the hopes that perhaps someone someday who is compelled to use violence may hear my story and realize that there is a better way, that although I had been subjected to this violent, intolerant ideology, that I did not become fanaticized. Instead, I choose to use my experience to fight back against terrorism, against the bigotry. I do it for the victims of terrorism and their loved ones, for the terrible pain and loss that terrorism has forced upon their lives. For the victims of terrorism, I will speak out against these senseless acts and condemn my father's actions. And with that simple fact, I stand here as proof that violence isn't inherent in one's religion or race, and the son does not have to follow the ways of his father. I am not my father.
Here is a link to Zak's T.E.D. talk. Hearing his voice adds so much to the story.