Ebrahim: ‘The Terrorist’s Son: A Story Of Choice’

September 6, 2018

[Written by Nadia Laws]

Peace activist Zak Ebrahim, the author of ‘The Terrorist’s Son: A Story Of Choice’ will be on Island this week for a Meet the Author event, hosted by Somersfield Academy on Saturday, September 8th at 10am.

Zak was just a boy when his father was convicted of being one of the conspirators behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

His father’s violence and intolerance impacted most of Mr Ebrahim’s adolescence – causing him to have to move home 20 times by age 19, struggling to make friends and keeping his identity secret to avoid being targeted.

But Mr Ebrahim choose a different path. Today, he is a member of The Forgiveness Project, which collects and shares stories from those who have rebuilt their lives following hurt and trauma.

The 35-year-old will share about his personal journey at this weekend’s event, which is free for students and $10 for adults. For tickets visit www.ptix.bm, and here he tells Bernews what attendees can expect.


Q: Why did you agree to come to Bermuda, a small place in the middle of the Atlantic, to share your story?

A: I have had the great privilege of sharing my story all over the world and to all kinds of audiences. I am always particularly excited to talk to young people. They have a huge capacity for change and a curiosity about the world that I find very encouraging. Ultimately my goal in speaking out was to help create a positive change in our society. I think talking to young people is one of the best ways to do that. And, they ask the best questions! When this wonderful opportunity to speak to the students at Somersfield Academy came up I jumped at the chance!

Q: What if anything is the main thing you want people to walk away from this event with?

A: I want people to come away from this event feeling optimistic about their own capacity for change. Being raised by my father to hate people based on arbitrary measurements like their race or religion created many inherent biases in me toward those who were different than myself. It is something I continue to work on every day of my life. It takes a conscious effort to rid ourselves of the biases we learn from our parents and loved ones and from society at large. I believe this is true for most people. I hope they will come away from my talk with a renewed will to change themselves for the better.

Zak Ebrahim Bermuda September 2018 (1)

Q: When it comes to the students, what do you specifically hope they would get from your message of peace, tolerance and globalized thinking?

A: First and foremost, I want them to always remember that their choices matter. Even when they feel least in control of their surroundings it is important to know that they do have agency and that what they decide ultimately affects more than just themselves. To be conscious of their beliefs and the effect those beliefs have on others I believe is something that has been lost on many adults. I hope to remind these students that they have more power than they know and how they use that power determines a great deal in society.

Q: Where else around the world have you travelled to share your story?

A: I have been very fortunate to travel to almost every corner of the globe in my efforts to share my story. I have shared my story with the FBI’s anti terrorism task force, on stage at Oxford University shared with one of my idols the Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and to college students at University of Southern California for example, at the privileged invitation of Dr. Errol Southers. It is by far the most fulfilling thing I could have done with my life. Getting to see so much of this world as a result has shown me no matter where we come from just how similar we all are. I always encourage those who have the opportunity to go out into the world and to interact with people different from ourselves, to do so. That is one of the best ways we can work to eliminate the inherent ignorance and fear of “the other” that exists inside all of us.

Zak Ebrahim September 2018 (2)

Q: What kind of feedback do you typically get from people who hear your inspiring story?

A: As I mentioned, sharing my story publicly has been one of the most cathartic and uplifting experiences of my life. People often tell me that my story inspires them to create change or it challenged them to think about things from a different perspective. As a writer, activist, and public speaker I’m not sure there is a more fulfilling feeling that I can elicit from an audience. My work has given me a sense of purpose and a sense of self worth that I’m not sure I would have found in any other sphere. That is something for which I am eternally grateful.

Q: On to the topic of your memoir, The Terrorist’s Son, what inspired you to write that? And how has your life changed since that came out?

A: I was inspired to write my book after I got involved in the anti war movement in the United States [before I began sharing my story publicly]. I saw many instances, from both protesters and counter protesters, where I thought perhaps if someone heard my story it would provide greater context to their understanding of incredibly complex issue like religious extremism, indoctrination, and the military industrial complex.

My life has changed in many, almost incalculable, ways [since sharing my story]. I have seen more of this world than a young kid growing up in the ghetto ever thought he would. But more importantly, I have interacted with many thousands of people all over the globe who are working every day to make this world a better place. At times like these, when it feels as if only the corrupt and self-aggrandizing are making headway in our society, remembering that fact is one of the things that gives me the strength to continue sharing my story.

Q: When you think about your father’s life, what is the most important lesson you learnt from him [directly or indirectly]?

A: I have learned many things both from my father’s actions and people’s reactions to him. The most important lesson I’ve learned is that we must not lose sight of the humanity in others as well as ourselves. I understand why some people turn to violence. And there are many reasons for it. However I think those people are ultimately looking for short term gain in the interest of short term satisfaction. To the detriment of “the long arc of the moral universe” as Dr. King put it. Anger is an inevitable reaction to oppression. Hatred, stirs and grows and can overcome your soul. I have learned that rejecting hatred is the most important step in creating a truly just vision of our world.

Q: Lastly, why do you hope people would come out to this upcoming event?

A: I hope people will be curious to hear my story and the lessons that I have learned along the way. I hope they will come and listen with open minds and hearts to a story of the capacity for change that exists in all of us.

- Photos courtesy of Sharon Mattson

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  1. I would like to make a suggestion if it has not already been put into motion, I know this event is being held by Somersfield Academy,but due to all the Private schools just gone back in and all Government schools to be back in next week, It would be a great opportunity for the department of education, to get to partner with Somersfield, to have this young man speak at our Senior High schools before his departure, or even have him stay on to do so.

    9-11 will always be a bitter memory for me personally and for many who knew our very own Rhondelle Tankard, and my expression are the same to the family of the late Mr. Boyd who I did not know personally, but just as many I can say exactly were I was the moment the events unfolded, and the horror that struck us personally as we sat glued to the T.V. and wondering about Ms Tankard’s werabout’s, My wife and I laughed and joked with her on the Saturday at a Baptism for our Church, and then on the Sunday she was on her way to New York to start work on the Monday, and her first day was her last.

    So to have this gentleman come to Bermuda and speak on his experience may help to heal some wounds and for others it may only open them wider, and I say this in great respect, because when you have been impacted personally and the wounds go deep, you tend to look at the situation just a little different, but if his speaking in Bermuda can help reach even one of our youth from going wayward and not follow the crowd, it would be worth it all.