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The Terrorist's Son: A Story of Choice

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An extraordinary story, never before told: The intimate, behind-the-scenes life of an American boy raised by his terrorist father—the man who planned the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

What is it like to grow up with a terrorist in your home? Zak Ebrahim was only seven years old when, on November 5th, 1990, his father El-Sayyid Nosair shot and killed the leader of the Jewish Defense League. While in prison, Nosair helped plan the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. In one of his infamous video messages, Osama bin Laden urged the world to “Remember El-Sayyid Nosair.”

For Zak Ebrahim, a childhood amongst terrorism was all he knew. After his father’s incarceration, his family moved often, and as the perpetual new kid in class, he faced constant teasing and exclusion. Yet, though his radicalized father and uncles modeled fanatical beliefs, to Ebrahim something never felt right. To the shy, awkward boy, something about the hateful feelings just felt unnatural.

In this book, Ebrahim dispels the myth that terrorism is a foregone conclusion for people trained to hate. Based on his own remarkable journey, he shows that hate is always a choice—but so is tolerance. Though Ebrahim was subjected to a violent, intolerant ideology throughout his childhood, he did not become radicalized. Ebrahim argues that people conditioned to be terrorists are actually well positioned to combat terrorism, because of their ability to bring seemingly incompatible ideologies together in conversation and advocate in the fight for peace. Ebrahim argues that everyone, regardless of their upbringing or circumstances, can learn to tap into their inherent empathy and embrace tolerance over hatred. His original, urgent message is fresh, groundbreaking, and essential to the current discussion about terrorism.

96 pages, Hardcover

First published September 1, 2014

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About the author

Zak Ebrahim

6 books36 followers
Zak Ebrahim was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on March 24, 1983, the son of an Egyptian industrial engineer and an American school teacher. When Ebrahim was seven, his father shot and killed the founder of the Jewish Defense League, Rabbi Meir Kahane. From behind bars his father, El-Sayed Nosair, co-masterminded the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Ebrahim spent the rest of his childhood moving from city to city, hiding his identity from those who knew of his father. He now dedicates his life to speaking out against terrorism and spreading his message of peace and nonviolence.
This is a MUST-SEE book trailer for The Terrorist's Son, created by TED Books: http://vimeo.com/100905676

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 558 reviews
Profile Image for Lynda.
204 reviews97 followers
January 2, 2015
One of my favourite quotes is from Mahatma Gandhi:

Zak Ebrahim is a living testament of this quote. He is the son of a terrorist, El Sayyid Nosair, a father who, in 1990, assassinated Meir Kahane, the militant ultra-Orthodox, anti-Arab rabbi and founder of the Jewish Defense League. Zak was just 7 years old. Then, from prison, his father helped plot the 1993 World Trade Center bombing - and was later convicted as one of the conspirators. He was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.

TERRORISM - there is no more important subject in the world at this moment. I do not know a single person who is not appalled and frightened in equal measure by the spread of Islamic fanaticism, especially the seemingly unstoppable rise of the gang of murderers known as Islamic State, Al Qaeda, Taliban. In addition it makes most of us rage as well as weep that young people are often the innocent victims; the recent slaying of school children in Peshawar still at the forefront of my mind.

We may loathe and fear this mind-set, yet we must still seek to be informed about it. And that's exactly what this book does. It informs. It's a real-life example of someone who was raised by a fanatic yet came to embrace nonviolence.

Zak Ebrahim as a child, with his father El Sayyid Nosair

The last time Ebrahim spoke to his father was in 1998. Now, Ebrahim travels the country speaking out against hatred and everything his father stands for. His nine-minute TED talk was released along with the book, which was published in partnership with Simon & Schuster in September 2014. You can listen to his talk here:

His message is that fanaticism is a choice.
“Even if you’re trained to hate, you can choose tolerance. You can choose empathy,”
he writes. Ebrahim understands the sad failing of his father.
“He chose terrorism over fatherhood, and hate over love,”
he explains.
“My father chose terrorism over me.”

Nosair, now 58, remains in federal prison. Ebrahim's mother divorced him long ago and remarried. He hasn't seen his children since 1995.
"He is my son, by birth,"
Nosair told a Los Angeles Times reporter via email last year.
"But he has disowned me and my way of life."

Ebrahim acknowledges that he may never understand why his father chose killing over his family.
"I still feel something for him, something that I haven’t been able to eradicate - some strand of pity and guilt, I guess, though it’s thin as spider’s silk,"
Ebrahim writes.
"I realize now that I don’t really know my father. I never really knew him."

Ebrahim today

As I type this review in my Dubai study, with the doors and windows open, I hear the call to prayer. It is beautiful. It is melodic. It is one of the most distinctive elements associated with living in the Middle East. And as I listen and ponder this book, I think again about the above quote of Muhatma Gandhi. Fighting evil with evil won’t help anyone. An eye for eye only ends up making the whole world blind.

Ebrahim's original, urgent message is fresh, groundbreaking, and essential to the current discussion about terrorism.

Be informed. Read this book.
Profile Image for Mikey B..
1,005 reviews374 followers
September 26, 2014
Page 12 (my book)

There’s a reason that murderous hatred has to be taught – and not just taught but forcibly implanted... It is a lie told over and over again – often to people who have no resources and who are denied alternative views of the world. It’s a lie my father believed, and one he hoped to pass on to me.

A highly interesting and personal story of a young man whose father became an Islamic terrorist. In 1990 his father shot and killed a rabbi, Meir Kahane. The author was seven years old at the time.

His father was from Egypt and married an American woman – the author was born in the U.S. in 1983. From prison his father conspired with other Islamic terrorists in the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993.

When queried by his son the father constantly lied or obfuscated about his involvement in these terrorist crimes. The son never became like his father. With his mother and siblings they struggled to survive and moved numerous times after his father’s incarceration. His mother remarried - and this man was abusive to his wife and children. The author had many reasons to embrace radical Islam – but always kept his mind open. He became more and more aware of the diversity he found in his country. He expressed and found empathy, instead of hatred, for others.

Page 79

When I was a kid, I never questioned what I heard at home or at school or the mosque. Bigotry just kind of slipped into my system along with everything else: Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. Pi equals 3.14. All Jews are evil and homosexuality is an abomination. Paris is the capital of France. They all sounded like facts. ..I was made to fear people who were different and kept away from them as much as possible for my own “protection”... I never got close enough to find out if I should fear them in the first place.

This is a touching story of how this young boy grew up and extracted himself from the seeds of hatred.

This is a short book and highly recommended. There is a TED talk by the author
Profile Image for Ірина Грабовська.
Author 8 books328 followers
December 3, 2022
Як на мене, це дуже жалюгідна книжка. Я хотіла поставити 2 зірки, бо мені не дуже подобається, як вона написана - дуже стисло, сухо, відсторонено і без жодних авторських рефлексій - але висновок, який автор написав в епілозі, мене просто вибісив.

Отож, це син Аль-Саїда Носайра, який сів пожиттєво за теракт у всесвітньому центрі. І потім мати знайшла собі нового чоловіка-мусліма, який бив її дітей. І припинив він бити конкретно Зака лише в момент, коли в 15 років він дав йому здачі.

Епілог: не можна відповідати насильством на насильство, не можна ставати агресором до агресора, треба обирати мир. Окей, чувак, круто ти обрав би мир зі своїм конченим вітчимом.
Profile Image for Zaira.
166 reviews3 followers
June 21, 2018
I think this is an extremely important story. It goes to show us that all of us, have a choice with regard to the life we want to live. It's crucial that we understand that no matter our upbringing, once we're able to think for ourselves, we get to *choose* to be who we want. As the quote goes, no one can imprison your mind without you letting them. This is a powerful message and one that I'll hold on to forever.
Profile Image for Yigal Zur.
Author 10 books127 followers
November 11, 2018
amazing story of zak ebrahim who his father shot rabbi Meir Kahane. a great read of a struggle of a sensitive soul to battle evil
Profile Image for Rudaina.
15 reviews1 follower
March 26, 2018
As much as i enjoyed this book I was filled with sadness reading it.
So heartbreaking how this family struggled to live because of the father's descisions that led to a disaster.
Profile Image for Nuttawat Kalapat.
614 reviews38 followers
December 30, 2020
แปลจากหนังสือ: The Terrorist’s Son
ผู้เขียน: Zak Ebrahim / Jeff Giles
ผู้แปล: พลากร เจียมธีระนาถ
สำนักพิมพ์: Move Publishing
จำนวนหน้า: 160 หน้า ปกอ่อน
พิมพ์ครั้งที่ 1 — พฤศจิกายน 2562
ได้รับรางวัล Alex Awards ปี 2015 จาก Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA)
หนังสือ ทรงพลังมากครับ อาจจะเปลี่ยนวิธีมองโลกเราไปเลยก็ได้ แถม storytelling การเล่าเรื่องดีมากๆ เป็นหนึ่งในเล่มที่ไม่ได้คาดหวังอะไรแต่ติดท็อปที่ชอบภายในปีนี้เลยครับ
เรื่องราวเป็นของนาย แซ็ก อิบราฮิม เขาและครอบครัวอาศัยอยู่ในสหรัฐอเมริกา พ่อของเขาเป็นชาวมุสลิมหัวรุนแรงสัญชาติอียิปต์ ขณะที่แซ็กอายุ 5 ขวบ พ่อของเขาถูกจับข้อหายิงชาวยิวคนหนึ่งตาย และต่อมาก็ถูกตัดสินโทษข้อหาสมคบคิดกับ “ชีคตาบอด” วางแผนระเบิดตึกเวิลด์เทรดเซ็นเตอร์ (โดยรถยนต์บรรทุกระเบิดในปี 1993) คิดดูว่าเรื่องราวที่เขาต้องเจอหลังจากนี้จะต้องโหดขนาดไหน
หนังสือไม่ได้เล่ามุมมองแค่ความซวยของครอบครัวผู้ก่อการร้ายอย่างเดียว แต่เล่าถึง เหตุผลและความเป็นมาของผู้ก่อการร้ายด้วย ซึ่งผู้ก่อการร้ายก็ไม่ได้ร้ายตั้งแต่เกิด แต่มันเกิดจากจุดพลิกผันอะไรบางอย่าง ที่ไปทำลายล้างความเชื่อที่เขามี
เรื่องราวนี้ทำให้ชีวิตที่เราเจอมากลายเป็นเรื่องเล็กไปเลยครับ หรือปัญหาครอบครัวของเรากลายเป็นเรื่องขี้ปะติ๋๋วไปเลย ถ้าคุณได้อ่านเรื่องนี้ คุณก็จะมองโลกและมองปัญหาเปลี่ยนไปครับ
สรุปความคิดเห็น ข้อสังเหตุ
- เหตุการณ์ world trade center มันค่อนข้างกระทบต่อภาพลักษณ์ชาวมุสลิม โดยเฉพาะที่อาศัยอยู่ในอเมริกาช่วงนั้น จะโดนหนักมากๆ
- นับถือการอดทนของผู้เขียน ที่ผ่านเรื่อง บูลลี่มากมาย และรอดมาได้
- ถึงแม้จะมีหลายเรื่องหนัก และสะเทือนใจ แต่ผู้เขียนตั้งใจให้เร���อ่านแบบไม่หดหู่ ไม่เครียด แต่อ่านแล้วเข้าใจโลกมากขึ้นต่างหาก

คะแนน 10/10
Profile Image for Meg.
1,059 reviews22 followers
July 17, 2015
I heard the author speak on NPR while driving in Sumatra and felt inspired enough by his words to write down his name to look up.

Just recently I found the scrap of paper and then found the book online...once opening the first page, I was mesmerized. His story is so full of pain...and I couldn't put down his memoir. He was born the son of a man that assassinated a rabbi...and then later, from jail, helped plot the first attack on the Twin Towers in NY. He was brought up in a conservative Muslim family, but learned as he grew (both farther from his father and older) that he was not willing to be a part of the hatred or bigotry that his father's version played in the world. Growing up bullied and then later abused by his stepfather, Z was able to overcome his troubles...and find empathy and compassion for others. I wish others could come out of a struggle with the same results.

My only problem with the book is that I wish it was longer. I would have liked to have read more about his life in Egypt, the separation of his mother and stepfather, and what he did after high school.

Read if you enjoy memoirs and like to read about overcoming challenges.
Profile Image for Praxedes Rivera.
420 reviews11 followers
July 12, 2015
What a compelling title! Too bad the contents did not match it....

Ebrahim implies that he was able to overcome his father's upbringing by embracing a theme of kindness and empathy. No problem there. But he wasn't actually raised by his father (who was in prison since Ebrahim was seven) and the transformation from a hate-based childhood to compassionate adulthood was too glib and superficial. This was a very unsatisfying read.

True, he overcame hardship due to his father's involvement in terrorism. His positive message about adopting a lifestyle extolling peace is also worthy. But the plot focused on myriad details of his challenges growing up (bullying, an abusive stepfather, issues with self-esteem, etc.) that occur daily to kids whose fathers are *not* terrorists. This lack of singularity is what bothered me the most about this book.

I hope the TED talk by this author is more elucidating.
Profile Image for Valentina Ramirez.
178 reviews2 followers
October 24, 2022
Creo que con este libro he descubierto que me gustan las biografías.

La narración es perfecta, a pesar de tener un titulo tan crudo, la narración no lo es.

Te hace empatizar con las vivencias de Zak, ya que por lo menos en mi caso, siempre he pensado desde la perspectiva de los terroristas, nunca me había parado a pensar en las consecuencias para las familias, sobre todas si estas no están en el dogma de la violencia.

El libro es sumamente ilustrativo en el como el fanatismo religioso te hace caer en el terrorismo y cuales son sus consecuencias.

Si quieren aprender más del tema y no entrar en este mundo de forma tan agresiva, es una buena forma de empezar.
Profile Image for C.S. Boag.
Author 10 books166 followers
December 10, 2014
I picked up this odd looking little book at an airport bookshop amongst all the airport rubbish, and it's a gem. It's what it says it is - the memoir of the son of a terrorist - and it makes for chilling but instructive reading.
The messages come out loud and clear:
1. Terrorists area fringe group - this particular one happens to be attached to a religion, but they can be anyone;
2.Young people can be influenced by purveyors of hate - although they needn't be;
3. It's a bastard being a son of a terrorist - but there's a choice.

This is the story of that choice - the writer becomes a pacifist warning others against taking the road his father went down. That poor boy ended up a good man.
76 reviews
January 18, 2015
I loved the idea for this book, but it left me wanting to know so much more. I didn't find out until after I picked it for book club that it was only 100 pages. It reads more like a long magazine article than the book I expected. I hope Zak Ebrahim will go back to it someday and fill in the blanks with more detail and stories about what his life was like after his father went to prison, while his mother was raising him and his siblings alone, and later with his stepfather. I would love to have read more about Ebrahim's thoughts and feelings. He gives us little snippets, but just enough to have whet my appetite for more. I did like what I read, it just wasn't enough for me.
Profile Image for Melody.
144 reviews1 follower
April 1, 2015
This was such a powerful little book. Reluctant to read it, I waited till the last minute thinking I wouldn't learn much. But once again, I was wrong. The details of a family living with the aftermath of a father's terrorism was chilling and sad. It was important to think about families whose leaders make poor decisions that affect their children's basic needs for life. So glad that Zak Ebrahim could see and move beyond the limitations he grew up with. It's a triumph!
Profile Image for Heidi The Reader.
1,388 reviews1,468 followers
August 12, 2015
A powerful testament to the strength of a person's inner voice in the face of an unimaginable upbringing and life circumstance. The part of this that was the most meaningful to me is when he talked about how "bigotry cannot withstand your own experience. I learned the difference between what I was being taught and how people really are by walking out my front door." (Paraphrased, not a direct quote)
Profile Image for Lien To.
121 reviews40 followers
January 10, 2018
3.5 stars ****

Extraordinary story of a boy living behind the shadows of a terrorist father. Alot of poignant and inspirational lines in the book, my favourite will have be "My father lost his way- but that didn't stop me from finding mine."

A story of faith instigating that we are the writers of our own stories.
Profile Image for Amiad.
412 reviews8 followers
April 22, 2018
כשזאק היה ילד אביו רצח את הרב כהנא ודן את משפחתו לחיי עוני והשפלה. למרות החיים האלה זאק גדל ובחר להרצות על אי אלימות.

מעניין לקרוא על החיים כמוסלמי בארה״ב אבל בסוף המסר של שלום ואי אלימות הוא קצת פשטני.
Profile Image for Allison.
7 reviews
January 12, 2023
This book was so much better than I expected it to be. It had a lot of meaningful quotes and was also very eye opening.
Profile Image for Melissa.
1,079 reviews71 followers
June 21, 2018
Tough story about how one generation’s loss of faith in the American Dream can lead them down a dark road of fear, hate, bigotry, and violence....but the next can choose a different path. This book is about the son of a terrorist, his father’s name is one many will recognize, but maybe we should know the son’s name more than his father, and have the names of those that can turn away from hatred and violence as easily called to mind and recognized as the former.
27 reviews
February 5, 2020
A quick but impactful read. It's a blessing that Zak had turned out to be a beautiful human despite so much hatred and violence in his life. Break the circle, it's be done.
Profile Image for Clay P..
17 reviews
December 15, 2014
I believe that the authors purpose in writing The Terrorist's Son is to show, and teach that the path that leads to love and peace is often found due to brutality from others. This memoir is written from the point of view of Zak Ebrahim. Characters include Zak's father El-Sayyid Nossair, Zak's mother, and Zak's stepfather Ahmed. Zak Ebrahim is a young boy who loves his family. All of his family is having a hard time, with money, bullying, and just being Muslim. When Zak's father is accused of a crime he did not commit, Zak's father goes into a deep depression. Months later, Nossair begins plotting. When Nossair kills a Jewish man by the name of Rabbi Kahane, he is thrown in jail. A few years later Ebrahim is introduced to brutality in the form of his step-father Ahmed. This book is about how Zak Ebrahim must choose what kind of person he wants to be.

Ebrahim writes“My father lost his way—but that didn’t stop me from finding mine." This quote shows that while Mr. Ebrahim was bullied, influenced by his father, and brutally beaten by his step-dad, it did not stop him from pursuing happiness, his own ideas, and above all else, peace. This idea that Zak Ebrahim displays in this book is very unique, and beautiful at the same time. It is much like the ideas displayed in the everyday life of 12 and 13 year olds. No one MUST follow in their parents footsteps, and that can often be a good thing. I enjoyed this book very much and would recommend it to anyone that thinks they would enjoy a short, thought provoking read.
Profile Image for Rachael.
Author 46 books73 followers
October 15, 2014
My only complaint about this book is that I wish it were longer. I understand what TED is trying to do with its publishing arm--bring to book form the compelling talks that are the hallmark of TED. But some topics deserve more than the novella length, and this is one of them.

Ebrahim has a fascinating story; he grew up as the son of a terrorist. His father was convicted of murdering a renowned rabbi in New York and also helped plan the 1993 World Trade Center bombing from his jail cell. Ebrahim was only seven years old when his father went to jail, and his life was filled with frequent moves, bullying, and abuse at the hands of a stepfather.

Because of the short length of the book, Ebrahim only skims the surface of events. Once in a while, he's able to dive down briefly, but then he's back up at surface level. While this was a quick read, I was left in the end wanting more. I guess it's better to wish a book were longer than having to plow through an overly long book. But the people at TED should have recognized this rich story and have allowed Ebrahim to fully develop this as a memoir.
Profile Image for Suhasini Srihari.
146 reviews31 followers
March 18, 2015
A heart touching write-up. The story of a bigot's son, who had to face such humiliations at a very age just because he bore his father's name. In spite of all the traumas and depressions, Z could hold on to having a hope to hope! A son, whom some thought, would continue in his father's footsteps, turned out to be otherwise. The sense of humanity and suffering that he was exposed to poured in him real truth of life, and that family is indeed of greater value than religion. I couldn't agree less with Z when he actually mentioned that religions today are used as 'weapons'. Yes, this is the harsh reality. However, he conveys no disrespect to any faiths but only abhors those who make religion their weapons.
I read the book after watching Zak conveying his emotions on one of the TED talks. The book was a fairly quick read.
Profile Image for Oleksiy Kovyrin.
81 reviews22 followers
June 6, 2017
Inspiring and depressing at the same time... Inspiring to see this kid escaping the brainwashing culture of bigotry and hate, but depressing to see his own mother subject him to all of that shit. I do not care about her beliefs, no mother should just sit and watch her children abused and brainwashed for years and not do anything. She wasn't in Egypt or AOE - she's a fucking US-born American woman! What stopped her from telling the step-father to take a hike and just going out to make a living like millions of other single mothers do? I don't know, going out to work? Instead, she's spent years leeching off of "donations" to her terrorist husband only to go and marry another random piece-of-shit guy just because he claimed to share her faith... Disgusting passivity in the name of faith!

Not the most flattering story for people claiming Islam is a peaceful religion of family values...
Profile Image for Hanna.
383 reviews3 followers
February 26, 2018
You cannot choose your family. For most of us, that can be mildly annoying at Christmas but then again most of our fathers are not terrorists. Meet Z, who is not as lucky. What does it feel like to be condemned for someone else's crimes? What is it like to grow up in the shadow of a man who did awful things? And how do you develop a working moral compass in such a situation? Zak Ebrahim managed to get through all of that, miraculously, without being pulled into extremism himself. Impressive read!
Profile Image for Katrusya.
128 reviews20 followers
January 23, 2018
Добра книжка. Ніби не говорить нічого надзвичайного, але водночасговорить дуже багато правди. Історія життя хлопчика, чий батько став першим засудженим терористом на американській землі, і який відмовився переймати ненависть у спадок.

Цікаво те, що, на відміну від подібних книг, тут немає історії "прощення" чи "примирення". Він говорить чітко й гостро, няких вищих сфер. Людину визначає її вибір.
Дуже цікавою постаттю була його мама, її теж хотілося б почути.
Profile Image for مي مجدي.
Author 2 books838 followers
September 18, 2022
هذا الكتاب يريد أن يقول لك ببساطة، كيف استطاع ابن الإرهابي أن يري الحقيقة بعيون الأمريكان، ويكتشف أن الإسرائي**لين ليسوا أعدائنا، وأن الشوا**ذ ليسوا سيئين كما نعتقد، وان الحب اهم من الدين والإيمان بالله، الأفكار مقحمة بطريقة مستفزة، توقعت تجربة افضل من ذلك الكتاب الذي يحكي مقتطفات من السيرة الذاتية لعبد العزيز ابراهيم نصير ابن الرجل الذي قتل حاخام يهودي لجماعة متطرفة في أمريكا في عام ١٩٩٠، وكيف تغيرت حياته بعد هذا الحادث...
June 9, 2015
This was a very short book to read, and I did not find much emotion in it. I felt like I was reading a news article rather than a book. I wish there was more detail about the life of Z and how his father got involved into being a terrorist. That part was a little confusing. I had to read this book for school, but I would have never picked it up on my own.
Profile Image for Thinn.
116 reviews9 followers
September 15, 2015
A heart breaking book.
The love and hope that Z brought through out his childhood and believing his father when he was young. Things fall apart when he realize the truth from his beloved mother. A great story.
The last long break my heart "We are not his children anymore."
Profile Image for Sooraya Evans.
911 reviews58 followers
June 1, 2016
Great pacing and in plain simple English.
Would be great to have more details, though...
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