My Name is Bassel. I am fourteen years old and I live in Kentucky USA. My mother and father came here from Syria twenty-two years ago. I have an older brother Farid, and a younger sister, Rima. Until yesterday I thought I was just a normal boy. Now, everyone keeps asking me why Farid did it, what changed him, or why we didn’t stop him. I just want to hide.
When we were younger, Farid and I would wrestle in the back yard. Farid always won. He was the oldest, but he also had a look in his eye that was different. A look that said he was not going to lose. He never said a word about it, but I knew it was there. Once in a while that look scared me, but I thought it was like that for all older brothers. Was that the sign they are asking about?
When I was younger and our family would go to the mosque for prayers, my mother would always keep me tight to her side. Somehow Farid was always able to sneak off to spend time with the older boys. They would spend hours plotting and planning ways to skip prayers or to find ways to meet with girls in the back hall. All the while I sat with my mom wishing I was with Farid. To my knowledge their plans never worked out, but they kept trying anyway. Could that be where the evil took root?
About six months ago, Farid started spending many hours in his room at night playing with his computer. He was always spending time alone and we never wrestled after that. That’s also when Farid started arguing my father. Soon they were arguing every day. Despite Farid having never seen our homeland, and after all his time hiding out at the mosque, Farid started acting as if he knew more about our religion than anyone else. Even my uncle, who is a scholar in Aleppo, could not convince him that his internet information was based on lies. We were all very frustrated, but what could we do? Should I have said something then?
My parents always taught us children that if we keep our mouths shut, and our problems to ourselves, we will be rewarded. They instructed us that our troubles would be handled by the family, not outsiders. This seemed to be good advice. I saw my friend’s families complaining and bickering in public all the time and it was very embarrassing. It seemed as if the original problem they had was less important to them than the public argument it inspired. For example, when a friend received a bad grade his parents went to the school and berated the teacher instead correcting the problem at home. When I got a bad grade, my parents would scold me behind closed doors. Sometimes the belt my father keeps on the wall was ready to correct the problem. Now everyone we know is asking us why we never told anyone about Farid. Do they really not understand us?
Religion is a funny thing. My neighbors put up decorations and have feasts with family at certain times of the year. They sometimes wear strange clothes, and alcohol is always the center of attention at their celebrations. Their holidays are all about gifts, gluttony, and drinking. Our holidays are more reserved, and my father says they should be about inner reflection and humility. Farid once told me that our reward comes in the after-life. I just don’t get why we can’t enjoy life now. My friend’s family celebrations do seem to be more fun. Should we celebrate our life now, or demonstrate restraint and piety and hope for the real life in the future? I wish I knew.
Yesterday morning started like every other day. I had planned to go swim at the community pool with a friend. As I exited the front door, the first of the news van drove up. Before I could speak, cameras were pointed at me and people I never saw before were asking me strange questions about Farid. Before I could make sense of it my father yelled at me to come back in the house. Everything I thought I knew had just changed. And just like everyone else I keep asking why?
Several years ago in school I had an argument with another boy over a backpack. In the heat of the moment, he called me a rag-headed terrorist. I didn’t even understand what he meant by that, but I was furious. Today, I still don’t feel like a terrorist, but maybe he was right.