Human Rights Watch NYC 2019
A Somali refugee reckons with his son’s arrest on terrorism charges.
Yusuf Abdurahman began a new life in Minnesota after leaving Somalia more than 25 years ago. In 2014, his teenage son Zacharia, who was born in the US, attempted to travel to Syria to support ISIS. Eventually, he plead guilty and was sentenced to a decade in federal prison. His father, struggling to understand what led his son to support a terrorist group, speaks with Zacharia via the phone in a series of candid, difficult conversations. In the process, Yusuf shares his experiences as a refugee and person of color in the US, while his son describes how his friends and he were recruited and radicalized through propaganda videos and books, as well as through personal contact, providing a much-needed sense of belonging, purpose, and importance. While such stories are sadly familiar, Lau’s intimate focus on a single father/son relationship is a smart choice, providing much-needed insight about such cases of radicalization while just as importantly humanizing a group to quickly dismissed and vilified in present-day American culture.