The Terrorist’s Son

Text by K. Cecchini
Eight years before 9/11, a 1,200 pound bomb exploded in the World Trade Center’s parking garage; it killed 6 people and injured over a thousand people. El-Sayyid Nosair was one of the attack’s architects.
But this article is not about the terrorist. It is about a very different man – his son.

Worlds Collide

Zak Ebrahim
Zak Ebrahim
Nosair only had 7 years to share his “very hateful ideology” with his son before he was imprisoned. As detailed in his memoir, The Terrorist’s Son, Zak Ebrahim, his mother and siblings suffered for his father’s actions; Nosair’s notoriety ultimately led to the family’s transient and impoverished existence and an abusive remarriage.
Because of -or in spite of- his childhood, Zak’s worldview lies in direct opposition to Nosair’s.

Zak Ebrahim credits two things for the undoing of this worldview; bullying and exposure. Being bullied taught him empathy while kindness from people he had previously stereotyped taught him understanding,  “I realized i wasn’t being the better person because of my beliefs, I was doing to them what had been done many times before and…I didn’t want to be that person who made others feel the way that I had been made to feel.”

 Moral of His Story

For years, Zak was still hard pressed for answers from El-Sayyid Nosair  about “why he chose this ideology over is family…and why he chose to leave us so unprotected?”
But, today, he is ok without those answers.
For the past 6 years, Zak has found a much better way to not only process his father’s actions, but to also transform a volatile childhood into a positive contribution; storytelling.
The idea that his story could be useful for others to hear evolved partly from the anti-war movement of the previous decade, “I thought if people knew my story, it would help them understand the context of radicalization” and, perhaps, how to mitigate it.
“One of the main ingredients of radicalization is isolation,” Zak warns. We have to be mindful of our reactions to events like the Charlie Hebdo attack, because “marginalizing is exactly what these extremist groups want, they want Muslims to have to deal with being stereotyped and being harassed for their religion because it pushes them out of the mainstream and makes people more susceptive to joining groups….human beings more than anything want a purpose in life… that makes them feel fulfilled and unfortunately many people can be tricked into believing things that are greater than themselves.”
Although Zak has no illusions of utopia, he believes that we are more likely to defeat groups like ISIS if we all come together to rally against them. On the other hand, he echoes the concept that military force will only strengthen their narratives.
“You can choose peace.”

Coming Out

“The Terrorist’s Son” is a brave moniker to choose. And, as Zak tells it, he is an unlikely storyteller. He credits his best friend and associate Sharon for supporting their venture as his “courage before (he) had it”.
Zak attributes the traction his story has received to the fact that we can all relate to the emotions within it, but he is still amazed and grateful for the public’s reception, “there’s nothing in the world that I could have done that would’ve been better than what I’m doing now, taking such a negative experience and showing people that there is hope at the end of the tunnel.”
When Zak said, “I feel very lucky and grateful that I get to do it,” I could hear the happiness in his voice.

“We are not his children anymore.”

The last line of Zak’s book gave me chills. I had one more question; did he forgive his father?
Zak first articulated his view on the concept of forgiveness; “it’s not absolution”.
Then he delved into it. No longer seeking Nosair’s answers, Zak reflected, “In that sense I think perhaps I allowed myself I guess,” I hear him take a deep breath on the other end of the line, “to forgive myself for all the terrible things I had gone through and the way that I was made to feel because of those experiences.”
“You’ve come to some sort of peace with it, is what I’m gathering?” I tried to clarify.
Pause.
Quietly, Zak agrees, “Yes.”
Learn more about Zak Ebrahim:
Click here for Mr. Ebrahim’s website or follow him on Twitter: @ZakEbrahim
The book and the tour. The Terrorist’s Son (Memoir): Zak donates a percent of sales from his memoir to Tuesday’s Children, a community of terrorism victims and their families around the world (that was started after 9/11). Zak is looking forward to dates in Australia and he is particularly honored and amazed to be sharing a panel with Desmond Tutu in England in the spring.
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Shutter InkED:

We began a regular photo post series, “Shutter INK,” that prompts our readers to write a caption for our featured photos by prose or by verse. Since then, we have received only one comment on our second post- and it left something to be desired. I suppose I would call that missing element enlightenment. But, as the Charlie Hebdo tragedy reminds us, free speech should be heralded even when it diverges from our own views.

So although I will not suppress the comment, I will exercise my power to contextualize it. Either the comment was a lame attempt at ignorant satire or, more likely, straight ignorant. The person wrote, “Just received my RAISE in my welfare obamamoney check, HALLELUJAH, glory be”. Not for nothing, poor mechanics and anonymity (screen name: “Al”) added to the class.

My question to “Al” is whether you would have been inspired to ascribe “welfare obamamoney” to the photo had the subject been Caucasian rather than an African-American woman? I assume the woman’s race also led you to include “HALLELUJAH, glory be”?

In essence, your ignorance only provides fodder for discussion.

Have we reached a post-racial United States?

I think not, “Al”.

Is my black preschooler just another statistic?

Article reposted from Omaha.com with permission from mother and author, Tunette Powell

Introduction by K. Cecchini.

I heard Tunette Powells’ story in This American Life a couple of weeks ago in an episode on school discipline entitled, “Is This Working?” and I was disturbed – but not shocked. I knew that her story of her son being suspended 3 times in a span of a couple of weeks from preschool is part of much larger conversations.

Yes, her son was suspended from preschool.

According to her radio interview, Powell blamed herself and her parenting before she stumbled onto the irrefutable evidence that her son had been disciplined in a manner that was unequal to that of his caucasian classmates.

Although, given Powell’s tenacity, she will do all that she can to ensure her son is not trapped in the undertow, it is still not difficult to see the link between her question, “Is my black preschooler just another statistic?” and justice reform.

Unfortunately, I am not drawing an imaginary line between school discipline and incarceration; experts have connected the dots and labeled it the “School to Prison Pipeline”. If our preschools are suspending kids – and focusing on African-American boys – than we really need to look upstream at how schools are addressing childhood. I am glad that Powell is standing up for her son and adding her voice to the conversation. 

“Is My Black Preschooler Just Another Statistic?” by Tunette Powell    (@TunettePowell)

My 4-year-old son JJ is the brightest preschooler I know.

And I’ve met everyone in his class.

He writes his name better than any other student. Not only can he spell his name, but he can spell his little brother’s and several of his classmates’ names. Earlier this month, he joined the church choir and has hopes of leading a song. If that wasn’t enough, he’s made home videos about heaven, Omaha’s weather and what he wants to be when he grows up.

That it is why I was shocked when I received calls in January and February asking me to pick him up from school. JJ was suspended from preschool three times in the past three months. My husband and I have sat in countless parent-teacher conferences trying to figure out what’s going on with JJ. The preschool staff thought it might be because I’m a working mom.
They also questioned our parenting tactics at home.

But after attending a birthday party where other parents, who were not black, shared stories of the horrific things their kids have done without suspension, I’m now a little skeptical. And now, after reading a story momaha.com published titled “Black preschoolers more likely to face suspension” I’m not sure what to think.

I would like to believe that the facts in the article are all leading to one big April Fool’s joke. But I can’t ignore the facts reported in the article: black children represent 18 percent of children in preschool, but make up almost half of the preschoolers suspended.

As a black mother, there are two things I have tried not to be: a black mother who plays the race card; and a loud and unreasonable black mother who defends her kid as if he can do no wrong. But even I admit it, I was shocked at the news of an unruly JJ each phone call.

JJ is a well-behaved child — for the most part. And he did what his classroom instructors accused him of… He threw a chair, refused to listen to his preschool teacher during nap time and he spit on another student. Believe me, JJ now understands the consequences of those things.

He’s been doing a lot better, and I was doing my best to forget about it. But earlier this month at a birthday party for one of JJ’s classmates, a few parents got together to discuss the preschool. Parents expressed their dislike and I agreed with them. I worked up the courage to tell them JJ had been suspended three times since the New Year. They were shocked.

“My son threw something at a kid on purpose and the kid had to be rushed to the hospital,” one parent said. “All I got was a phone call.”

One after another three white parents told me about the preschool fights and disciplinary problems their children were having. The most startling thing they admitted was that none of their children had been suspended.

After JJ’s second suspension, my husband asked the preschool staff if any other students had been suspended. Of course, they couldn’t share that information with us, but it was a question worth asking.

Since then, JJ has been walking on egg shells. If he doesn’t sleep at nap time, they leave us a note. If he doesn’t feel like being the life of the classroom, they leave us a note.

I’m torn on what to do or if I should do anything at all.

But I do know one thing: JJ will not be treated the way I was treated in preschool.

I was expelled because they said I talked too much. I will be a race-card playing, loud-mouth black mother before JJ is just a another statistic.

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About Tunette (From tunettepowell.com)

 

Nationally-known author and public speaker, Tunette Powell has received a host of prestigious public speaking awards, including being named the top persuasive speaker in the country in 2012, as she has traveled throughout the country motivating and encouraging young men and women at schools, colleges and universities, and nonprofit organizations. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, Powell has dedicated her life to being the change she wishes to see. Read more about Tunette on her site.

Follow her on Twitter: @TunettePowell and Facebook: Tunette Powell
You can read on Tuesdays on momaha.com
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Sex & Traffic

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Text by K. Cecchini @tonightatdawn

Tricked.

The sex industry is complicated but it can often be looked at through this one word.

It’s also an apropos title for the 3generations documentary on sex trafficking.

I was fortunate to meet Jane Wells, producer and co-director of Tricked, at the Montclair Film Festival screening this past April and spoke with her recently regarding her impressions on how to address the sex trade and her approach to the subjects in the film.

Traffic is Flowing

The sex trade is expanding; there is a greater demand for the product, and therefore, victims. The FBI identifies it as the most common form of human trafficking with victims in the millions domestically and internationally, “It is the fastest-growing business of organized crime and the third-largest criminal enterprise in the world”.

“It (sex trafficking) is the fastest-growing business of organized crime and the third-largest criminal enterprise in the world”. -FBI

Some experts blame the internet for the surge. It is much easier to access porn and sex for sale while circumventing law enforcement. And not for nothing, it certainly provides the comfort and anonymity of shopping from home.

Wells surmised, “It’s a lot easier to sit on your computer in your office or your home and go online and make contact with someone than it is to get in your car and drive to a certain side of town…and worry about who might be seeing you. I think the privacy that the internet affords is a big factor in allowing more people in accessing sexual services.”

The catch 22 is that the ease of access arouses more demand as even more folks get a taste for it.

Slowing Down the Traffic

Being that prostitution is, as they say, ‘the world’s oldest profession,’ it’s a difficult problem to solve. With their films, Wells says that 3generations is attempting to counter the broader culture’s impression of prostitution, “…that says ‘its a victimless crime, that most of the girls are doing it by choice…'” and it’s “‘…2 consenting adults doing something completely normal and natural'”.

The prostitute that is acting completely out of free will is truly a rarity and Wells stresses that “…if you are a john and you are purchasing sex you cannot know, you will not know whether the person you are purchasing it from is under pimp control or not because there is no way you really can know.”

It is highly unlikely that a sex worker will confide expose their circumstances because the pimps contain them by instilling great fear and brainwashing their workers so “…their goal is to get money from the john to look like they’re enjoying it because that’s going to be productive and get it over with as quickly as they can by looking happy and content.”

Policing the Traffic

Although many experts recognize that punishing the prostitute – the victim – is neither an effective or fair option, people cannot agree on what is a viable alternative.

Some European countries, such as Germany and Holland, have attempted to stem sex trafficking by legalizing prostitution. The legislative intentions are to allow men and women who are freely selling their sexuality to lead the market, but Wells questions this logic of making exceptions for the minority of sex workers that “…allows for the exploitation of the majority”.

Apparently, she’s right; legalization has exacerbated the vicious cycle of trade. According to Wells, there has been a significant increase in trafficking and author Lydia Cacho asserts that nearly 50,000 African and Latina women have been trafficked to Germany and Holland.

Alternately, nations like Sweden, have made the opposite move with greater success. They have kept prostitution illegal, and have criminalized the purchasing of sexual acts as opposed to the selling.

Exiting the Life

As you may imagine, finding your way safely out of ‘the life’ and reestablishing yourself in mainstream society is a feat that is complicated by numerous factors and necessitates great supports and strength.

In fact, it’s a wickedly complex feat.

One woman that Wells had spoken to for Tricked had insisted that she freely chose to be a prostitute. A few months ago, Wells learned that the woman had finally recognized that she, indeed, was brainwashed while in a transitional program.

Another story that Wells recounted was of a young man that she had interviewed who, for lack of services, was trying to process his experiences via social media. Through her Facebook feed, Wells assumes that he must spend hours everyday sharing information on prostitution and trafficking with an informal network of survivors.

At this point, though, there are less than 100 beds for female survivors and there are even less, if any, services for male victims within our 50 states.

Often, female victims will end up in places like battered women shelters as they try to move away from the life. Although it may seem a good enough roof for them to find reprieve under, former prostitutes do not receive the specific supports and understanding that would be available in a dedicated service.

To contend with possible years of brainwashing and trauma, these victims need to build up new methods of trust, self-esteem and functioning in the mainstream. According to Cacho, survivors of the sex trade, among other things, need full-time mental and physical health specialists, security, housing, nutrition, legal and immigration assistance. In the United States, she cites the Girls Educational & Mentoring Services in New York as a model organization.

Trafficking is Slavery

In the words of the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation (CASE) Act organization website,

“Human trafficking deviates from our historic view of slavery, making it hard to conceptualize. But ultimately, slavery today and 200 years ago share the same notion: It’s the notion that one person’s life, liberty and fortune can be under the absolute control of another, and be sold, bought, or used at the will of the owner”.

So the ‘home of the free and land of the brave’ is still not rid of slavery, it just has a new look. On the FBI website, there is this headline, “It’s sad but true: here in this country, people are being bought, sold, and smuggled like modern-day slaves”.

Not in my backyard? Who can tell?

Visit Tonight at Dawn for a follow-up article on the making of Tricked.

 3generations is a non-profit organization whose mission is to amplify the story of survivors through film “…as an act of healing and a call to action”.  Their most recent release is Native Silence, a “solemn account of the legacy of forced adoption on Native American children, torn from their tribal communities and placed in foster care and boarding schools”.

References:

“3generations.” 3generations. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2014.

Cacho, Lydia, and Roberto Saviano. Slavery Inc.: The Untold Story of International Sex Trafficking. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

FBI. FBI, 22 Feb. 2011. Web. 24 Oct. 2014.

“Wells, Jane”. Telephone interview. 28 Aug. 2014.

http://www.gems-girls.org

New Posts are Brewing

Text & Photo by Kimberly Cecchini

It may seem as though Tonight at Dawn is on a bit of a hiatus, but I am feverishly working on new posts. This weekend, in addition to covering the festival for Millennium Magazine, I am also a proud member of the Montclair Film Festival photo and blog teams and am running around the town to cover incredible films and fascinating conversations. Here are some of the posts that you can expect over the next week or so:

-Reposts of my photos and blogs on the Montclair Film Festival from conversations with new late night host, Stephen Colbert to Kevin Smith to an incredibly diverse array of inspiring documentaries and entertaining films.

-Interview with my colleague, Dena Floyrzk, who is an incredible photographer and now the founder of two schools in Nigeria.

-Interview with Indian author, Vinay Rai, on his book, Think India, and the state of his country’s progress as a developing economy.

-Interview with a New Jersey chef on his beautiful and ecologically inspired restaurant, Pig & Prince, as will be printed in Millennium Magazine.

Interviews to be slated for the rest of spring:

-Dr. McCabe, graduate professor and autism expert.

-Australian author of proposal for the rehab of orcas in captivity

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John Lugizamo at the Opening Night if Montclair Film Festival 2014.