Archive for Sunday, January 1, 2006

American teen’s empathy led him to travel to Iraq alone

January 1, 2006


— He was born into money and privilege, the son of immigrant parents who came to this country from Iraq looking for freedom and a better life.

They found it, amassing wealth that gave him a home overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, tuition to a prestigious prep school and a $50,000 Infiniti for his 16th birthday.

But Farris Hassan, a tall and lanky straight-A student who loves to debate world politics and shuns typical teenage hangouts, didn't want it.

He left his bedroom unadorned, kept his friends few and, two weeks ago, stunned those who knew him by walking away from his life here. The teen boarded a plane to the Middle East alone, knowing the journey he embarked on might kill him. His ultimate destination: Baghdad. His plan: to stand with those struggling for democracy in Iraq.

As family and schoolmates awaited his return from Baghdad this weekend, they described a young man who feels guilty about the comfort he enjoys, who is brilliant but foolhardy, a boy brimming with idealism and the desire to make a difference.

According to his father, an anesthesiologist, the teen spent two weeks traveling from Kuwait City to Beirut to Baghdad. He interviewed soldiers and everyday citizens to understand their plight, before walking into a war zone office of the Associated Press news agency, which called the U.S. Embassy, already on the lookout for him.

Officials took him into custody Wednesday and put him on a plane to begin the long trip home Friday, The Associated Press reported.

"He wouldn't take it from anyone else. He had to see for himself," said his mother, Shatha Atiya, a psychologist, who said she was furious and terrified when she first learned where her son was headed.

According to family and schoolmates, Hassan is an honors student at Pine Crest School, an expensive preparatory in Fort Lauderdale that is often a gateway to the Ivy Leagues. A junior, standing 6 foot 2 inches, he is enrolled in several Advanced Placement classes, is a member of the debate team and Renaissance Club, and is a vocal Republican.

"He was kind of unusual," said Chris Rudolf, 17, who eats lunch with Hassan. "He wasn't really popular, but everyone knew him. He was shy about most things until you started talking about something he was passionate about. He was very passionate about the war in Iraq."

A Muslim, his interest in Iraq grew from his family background - both of his parents were born there - and his voracious appetite for books and current events.

The boy's father says Pine Crest in no way encouraged his son to go to Iraq. He said he had planned to take his son there this summer, but that his son was too impatient and took off on his own.

Once the boy arrived in Kuwait City, he attempted to cross the border into Iraq by taxi, his father said. When Hassan found the border closed, he called his dad who, while furious, says he gave his son the option of coming home or staying with family friends in Beirut for a week until the border opened and private security could be arranged.

Redha Hassan said he was lenient with his son because of the boy's passion and his own past, which could not be verified independently.

Redha Hassan says he didn't want to kill his son's passion to help the democracy movement. "He wanted to show he was braver than me," the father said.

Once he learned of his son's plans, he said he arranged for the boy to fly into Baghdad and be met by private security and taken to a local hotel so he could fulfill his quest. But when the boy entered The Associated Press office on Tuesday, he was alone and said his parents did not know where he was, the news agency reported.

In contrast to the father's story, a U.S. government official speaking on the condition of anonymity to The Associated Press said it was the U.S. military who kept the boy safe.

The teen left Baghdad on Friday, said Navy Commander Robert Mulac, who works in the Multi-National Force-Iraq press office in Baghdad.


Ragingbear 12 years, 5 months ago

Empathy or stupidity? Kid is lucky that he isn't A: Dead or in the hands of extremist. Or B: In Guantanimo as an "enemy combatant".

corporate_sleaze 12 years, 5 months ago

First, it appears the the kid's father isn't being totally honest. Second, the kid may be smart, but also seems to be very misguided from a parental standpoint.

Better put them all on the NSA watch list.

mr_sassy_pantsss 12 years, 5 months ago

This kid's parents were completely out of touch with him and they had no idea he had even left his room/house/town/country until days later when they were contacted by US officials.

They both are scrambling to cover up for their ignorance of his activities.

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