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Saturday, December 31, 2005


Iraqi-American Teen, Travels to Iraq to Help Democracy

Teen's empathy led him to Iraq

Journey draws world's spotlight, stuns his parents.

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.

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.

After leaving for the Middle East, Hassan sent out an e-mail in opposition of terrorism, saying more people needed to get involved in the Iraqi struggle for democracy

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 safe 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.

"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 boy was headed.

According to family and schoolmates, he 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, he is enrolled in several advanced-placement classes, is a member of the debate team, the Renaissance Club, and 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."

After leaving for the Middle East, Hassan sent out an e-mail in opposition of terrorism, saying more people needed to get involved in the Iraqi struggle for democracy -- people like him. He wrote:

"To love is a not a passive thing. ... When I love, I do something, I function, I give myself. When I do that, I am freed from guilt. Love and kindness are never wasted. They always make a difference. ... I want to experience during my Christmas the same hardships ordinary Iraqis experience everyday."

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 only reason he joined the football team his sophomore year, his uncle said, was to round out his college resume:

"He's not your typical teenager," said Ahmad Hassan.

When rumors about his trip began spread at school -- Hassan skipped a week of classes before winter break started -- classmates were dubious.

"We thought it was a little joke. I mean, we get in trouble for sneaking out of our house to go to the movies," said Anjali Sharma, who attended classes with Hassan last year....

See the rest of the story- Sun-Sentinal News


Now HERE is a teen to be proud of.
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