It doesn’t happen often in one’s life to meet someone who achieves greatness on a regular basis AND is relatively discreet about it. If you think this is an overstatement, wait until you read about Ramzi Kassem’s journey.
Ramzi has lived in 5 countries, has two Master degrees in law, founded a legal clinic in New York to make law enforcement accountable and advised the creators of the tv show Homeland after he told them their show was racist… I told you; no overstatement!
(Photo: Courtesy of Ramzi Kassem)
Ramzi as a kid
Ramzi Kassem grew up in war-torn Lebanon to the sounds of bombs. As the civil war was raging his family moved to Iraq, Jordan and Syria. Ramzi speaks fluent French because he went to a French high school at a time when ‘the French civilizing mission’ was in full swing. Despite the misgivings, the French Missions were better options in the Middle-East and they offered free-tuition fees. However, the difference of treatment between local and foreign students was obvious and the tension palpable. Ramzi recalls an incident that illustrates perfectly the situation. His sister was summoned by the school principal who was surprised at her excellent results. He couldn’t understand why she was “working so hard since [her] fate was to get married after school anyways”.
(Photo: Chris Hawley)
Ramzi as a student
Ramzi graduated with a degree in law from both Columbia in New York and La Sorbonne in Paris. During his studies in New York, 9/11 happened. After hearing about the buildings collapsing, he rushed to ground zero, gave blood and offered to help. Soon after, he got involved at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as an interpreter and legal assistant, visiting prisoners in facilities across the US. He was mistaken for a prisoner whose lawyer had given him a suit to facilitate his escape. Credit to post-9/11 paranoia and prejudice, I guess…
(Photo : CUNY Law School)
Ramzi as a lawyer
Currently, Ramzi dedicates his work to make law enforcement accountable, creating jurisprudence and offering free and qualitative legal help through the C.L.E.A.R. legal clinic at CUNY Law School, where he also acts as a Professor. C.L.E.A.R. stands for Creating Law Enforcement Accountability and Responsibility. In other terms, Ramzi Kassem is at the forefront of the Muslim-ban, battling as well as representing citizens whom have been harassed and abused by both the FBI and NYPD during spying missions. In addition, he also represents prisoners from Guantanamo and Bagram to ensure them a fair trial. Many of them are still imprisoned without charges and no trial in sight.
I was living in New York during summer 2012 and I recall an interesting incident. At that point I had no idea about the spying operations and the resulting defiance within the Muslim communities. As Ramadan went on I would often break my fast and pray at the ICNY. One of the volunteer came to me asking a lot of questions. Later on, she confessed that she was suspicious about me, stating “a white woman suddenly attending the ICNYU, living in the Hassidic neighborhood in Brooklyn and [being] too smiley”. Against all odds, we are now very good friends.
(Photo: Courtesy of Ramzi Kassem)
Ramzi as a tv show consultant
Ramzi has been contacted by the co-creator of the tv show Homeland to act as a consultant. First, he politely declined the invitation telling them he wouldn’t collaborate for a show that pictures Muslims as terrorists and is thoroughly racist. The co-creator insisted saying that he would love for Ramzi to point out the twisted parts from the scripts. And just like that, Ramzi was hired to edit the scripts and correct their racist punctuations into a more fair and close-to-the-reality fiction. The character Reda Hashem is greatly inspired by Ramzi’s work at C.L.E.A.R. .
Hearing and reading about Ramzi’s story is truly empowering. It is the story of a human being who strives for equality and justice for all. There is something visceral about it. As if his childhood spent in war-torn countries with little to no justice system had conditioned him to dedicate his work, free-time and life to make fair and quality justice support accessible to all, not as a privilege, but a full right!