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Caught in the Crossfire


Ahmed Nasser

Ahmed at work


It's definitely been harder here since September 11 because I see other people who get hurt, who might not know their rights in this country, or maybe they're afraid...I know I'm American 100 percent. I also know I'm Arabic 100 percent. I can't change where I came from. But you know what? I'm just like anybody else...from anywhere in the world. I'm an immigrant, but I'm also an American, and this is my home.

Ahmed Nasser was born in Yemen in 1966. When he was 14, soldiers came to his house, took him away and forcibly conscripted him into the Army. At the time Yemen was in a civil war. After serving four years, Ahmed left Yemen and came to the United States.

About the loss of his childhood, he says, "That's why now I'm going to school because that's what they took from me. I'm trying to make that up so I was determined to come here and turn my life around....I wasn't just going to be one ignorant person who was going to stay there and not do anything about his life. So when I came here I decided to go back to school, learn English from scratch, and - thank God. I'm trying. I think I'm doing okay."

Hadjirah, Ahmed's wife Ahmed watching TV with his son Ahmed and family at prayer

He arrived in New York City, worked as a waiter and later got a job on the Board of Education's maintenance staff. In 1989, Ahmed married Hadjirah, an Arab American woman born in Brooklyn.

In 1995, he returned to college full-time while holding down a full-time job. As a child, Ahmed watched American cop shows and decided he wanted to be "one of the good guys." In March 2000 he joined the New York Police Department. He was stationed at Ground Zero in the wake of 9/11 and felt the full impact of the terrorist attacks on New York.

"I was there at least 10 days altogether. I don't want to admit it to myself but I felt a lot of depression and saddened by this whole thing. It just kept coming back to me. The things that you see in one of those days - and then it just comes back and hits you again. So when you go there and sit on the conveyer belt and all these colored things that are passing you by and you think to yourself, What is this? You know, credit cards, personal items and plastics, then you pick up what looks like a rock and you find it's a bone. How hard it is to think of it, just to think of the event. A lot of innocent people lost a life."

His wife, Hadjirah, remembers picking up their children from school on September 11. "I picked them up at 11:00, and when we were walking home, somebody said, 'Go back where you came from, you f-----n' terrorist.' So that got me upset."

Ahmed realized that the police did not always satisfy the Arab community in the way they responded to calls about harrassment. The principal of Brooklyn's largest Muslim school explained, "I called the precinct about 2:30 because I expected there would be trouble. So they said, 'A police car will be sent to your school.' At 3:00 there was literally nobody out and I was about to dismiss the kids. At that point I saw some 20, 30, maybe 40 kids running in our direction from the other side, and they were about to chase our kids all the way to 25th Street. Right away I had to push everybody inside and send teachers outside to make sure these kids don't get near, and immediately we started calling 911. Nobody showed up until about 3:30. Because this is an Arab or an Islamic place I don't see anybody coming to the rescue."

  Muslim schoolgirls

Now the policeman has joined with other Muslim cops to help their community get the protection promised by the American system of justice. He escorts Muslim schoolgirls from school to the subway station to make sure they get home safely. In December 2001, he helped organize the American Muslim Law Enforcement Association.

Broadcast Resources The Filmmakers Talkback After 9/11: Stories Arab Americans Their Homelands Khader Raghida The Story The People