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Wisdom of the Terrorist’s Son
Posted on Sep 19, 2010
By Chris Hedges
Those who embrace violence, whether in the form of acts of terrorism or acts of war, are necrophiliacs. They worship death. They sacrifice life, including at times their own, for the heady intoxication that comes with becoming an angel of destruction. And in the wake of their fury and violence they not only leave grief, pain and suffering, but they perpetuate new cycles of revenge and murder like bad karma. These killers are presented to us in many forms. They come packaged as patriots and heroes, wearing rows of medals like David Petraeus or Stanley McChrystal, or they stumble onto the stage as bearded villains wearing suicide belts. But they are all killers. They all drink the same, dark elixir of death. They all partake of the same drug. They all take life in the name of high national or religious ideals. And they are all the scourge of the human race.
Zak Ebrahim, with whom I spoke in Philadelphia, knows intimately the old, sad tale of retribution, violence and revenge. His father is El Sayid Nosair, who, on Nov. 5, 1990, in New York City, assassinated Rabbi Meir Kahane, the head of the Kach Party, labeled by the United States, Canada and the European Union as a terrorist organization. The party was outlawed by the Israeli government in 1988 for inciting racism. Kahane’s armed followers, whom I often encountered heavily armed at improvised roadblocks in the occupied Palestinian territories, were responsible for the murders and beatings of dozens of unarmed Palestinians. They held rallies in Jerusalem where they chanted “Death to Arabs!” And to many Palestinians, as well as many Muslims in the Arab world, Ebrahim’s father, currently in ADX Florence Supermax Prison in Florence, Colo., is celebrated as a hero. But to his son, who was then 7, he became something else. He became the father who disappeared because murder for a cause was more important than a life with his wife and three small children. And if anyone understands the line demarcating seductive ideologies of death and the fragility and sanctity of systems of life, it is Ebrahim.
His father, like many other immigrants arriving in the United States as young adults, struggled. When he first lived in Pittsburgh, a woman who was thinking of converting to Islam accused him of rape. The charges were eventually dropped due to lack of evidence. But it made him wary and distrustful of American culture. The family moved to Jersey City, N.J., where Nosair’s cousin offered him a job. A few months later he was severely electrocuted. He was unable to work for weeks. He fell into a deep depression.
“He spent a lot of his time sitting next to his radiator in the living room with his Koran and praying,” Ebrahim said. “Those two things, which were things he had not expected when he immigrated, led him towards a group he felt more comfortable with, which was Muslims. Unfortunately, that led him to Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman.”
Rahman, a blind Egyptian cleric who was implicated in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, was the leader of a radical mosque in Jersey City. He is serving a life sentence at the Butner Medical Center, which is part of the Butner Federal Correctional Institution in Butner, N.C. The 1993 attack killed six people, including a pregnant woman, and injured hundreds more.
“I remember him as being a very normal, Egyptian Muslim father,” said Ebrahim, 27, in fluent, unaccented English. “He was very funny, always trying to make us laugh. We lived in a happy home. My parents didn’t argue. He was never violent with us. But over the course of that last year, when he started going to the Masjid Al-Salaam mosque in Jersey City, he drifted away from us. He was spending more and more time with this group of Muslim men. My mother noticed that he was starting to become initially a little more fundamentalist and then he announced he wanted to go to Afghanistan to fight in the Afghan war. He brought my grandfather here from Egypt to try and convince him to take the family back to Egypt with him so that he could go fight there. My mother was very much against him leaving to fight in this war.”
Nosair’s father strictly forbade his son to go to Afghanistan and told him his duty was to remain at home and support his family.
“He was spending more and more time at the mosque,” said Ebrahim, who was born Abdulaziz El-Sayed Nosair but changed his name after the Kahane assassination. “The mosque had a small store on the second floor of the building that sold Islamic materials, Korans and posters, which they used to raise funds for the war in Afghanistan. I am not sure when the turning point was, but when his father told him your family is your responsibility, you need to stay here and take care of them, and he was left with this need to make a change, to help his fellow Muslims, or however he saw it, he decided to go a different route. He decided to target people in the United States.”
Shortly before the assassination, Nosair, who repaired air conditioners in New York City’s courts, took his young son to a shooting range in Long Island. The range, it turned out, was under surveillance by the FBI. The father and son practiced firing automatic rifles.
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