Zak Ebrahim could have followed in his father's footsteps, indoctrinated in the kind of extremist belief that pushes an Islamic jihadist to take lives in pursuit of a hateful ideology.

At the age of 7, Ebrahim's father, El-Sayyid Nosair began teaching him to shoot, to act against those different from himself, not long before Nosair was accused of assassinating Jewish Defense League founder Rabbi Meir Kahane.

While Nosair was acquitted of murder, he was convicted of assault and illegally possessing a gun. He was sentenced to prison, where he was later implicated in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, in which six people were killed.

As Ebrahim recalled, his father had expressed the idea that "violence was an acceptable response, especially against innocent people" to pursue political ends, particularly against the United States.

But with Nosair imprisoned, Ebrahim said he was brought out of the isolation imposed by his father.

He quickly learned Christians, Jews, gays and others he had been instructed to hate were humans, too, and even friends.

"It was through interaction and experience that ultimately let me reject my father's beliefs," he said in a phone interview Friday.

Ebrahim will share the story of his redemption from hate and his mission to promote peace on Tuesday at Union College in Lincoln.

Ebrahim, who wrote a book about his experience called "The Terrorist's Son: A Story of Choice," said he wants to show others how their choices matter, and how their decisions to treat other people can influence their lives for years to come, no matter their background.

"People come up to me all the time and say that while their story isn't exactly like mine, they tell me they were raised by parents who espoused hateful beliefs, or that they grew up in a community or had a religious leader who taught them to hate," he said.

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Ebrahim said at 16 he learned from a youth convention speaker who also grew up the target of bullies while being raised by a single mother that he could choose to escape that kind of life.

The speaker said that young people could not always control the circumstances of their lives, but that didn't mean they didn't have agency in their own future.

It was the first time he connected with someone else who lived a similar experience, who could relate to what he'd been through, Ebrahim said.

He hopes he can be that person for others.

"I remember the experience I had and the strength his experience gave me later in life when I felt like I didn't have a lot of hope," he said. "It was easy to think things would always get worse, but he was the first to show me that things could get better."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or cdunker@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS.


Higher education reporter

Chris Dunker covers higher education, state government and the intersection of both.

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