WATCH | Music is transformative. It can shift through culture, thoughts and emotions all through the rhythms of a drum or the notes on a guitar. For an Arab-American living in New York, the love of music came from the sounds of hardcore punk, and his life ultimately changed because of it .
Nader Haram is from Yonkers and is the vocalist in the New York hardcore punk band, Haram. His parents escaped the Lebanese civil war as refugees in the 1980s, when an estimated 150,000 people died and more than 1 million people were displaced.
After his parents moved to New York, Nader lived a normal suburban life like any other kid. But for many New Yorkers, things changed on September 11, 2001.
"I remember I was the first one pulled out of class and the principal was there," Nader recounts. "I sat down and the D.A.R.E. officer comes up to me. 'Where is your dad? Where is your mom right now? What do they do? Have they been abroad lately?'
I remember my mom pulled up and I got in the car. We're driving away from the school and I remember looking back. 'What's happened? What's going on?' And she's like, 'Oh, there was an attack on the city. Your father is down there.'" The surreal event haunts him to this day.
"Here I was, getting questioned by an officer... and also telling me that my dad was a terrorist. Meanwhile, my dad is in a first emergency response at Ground Zero and helping people out," Nader says.
Haram (which means "forbidden" in Arabic) is the first American punk band to sing in Arabic, with their cultural identity at the forefront.
"When we look back in 10, 15 years, we'll be talking about them, if for nothing else, just for that importance," said James Khubiar of CLRVYNT Magazine. "I feel almost like how Los Crudos has held on for 20, 30 years for the Latino community or The Dicks and Big Boys in Texas for LGBT, we'll be talking about that for Haram, because there wasn't one before. There is no reference point; it's just them."
Haram is Nader on vocals, Mike Gallant on guitar, James Stuart on drums, and Martin O'Sullivan on bass. They have a hardcore punk sound with a goth influence. The vocals are abrasive, their rhythm section is bouncy and confusing, and the guitar is slimy and pulsing.
(Photo by Renate Winter)
In August 2016, members of New York's Joint Terrorism Task Force began visiting Nader's home, his parents' home, and his workplace. On August 10, he received a call from his uncle, who had previously employed Nader at his computer repair store in midtown Manhattan. He told Nader that agents had come to retrieve Nader's internet history. He also received a call from his father saying agents had visited the home.
It was the first day of the band's tour, and they were driving to a concert in Washington, D.C.
"The fact that this happened the day, at the time we were leaving for a tour, seemed to me to mean that they were conscious of what was happening with us at that moment and chose that time to intervene," said Haram drummer James Stuart. "Just the fact that it was in Arabic was enough to arouse their suspicion that Nader was doing something wrong, which he's not. They didn't even bother to translate the music to know that it was anti-extremist and secular and all this stuff. They just showed up at his house instead."
About a week later, two NYPD officers knocked on Nader's parents' door, and then came to question Nader at his home once they learned he no longer lived there. According to Nader, they asked him questions about his life and band, showed him some materials about his band they had printed, and left. He has not been contacted since. "It was still a very invasive experience for me. They came to my home, you know?
Fuck them. I don't care. I still do my thing everyday, and I'll do it every day until I die.
Nader reflected on his FBI experience.
(Photos by Angela Owens)
WATCH | Haram performs live in Oklahoma City.
New York's Joint Terrorism Task Force was the first of 104 JTTF's in the country, and was started in 1980. The primary partners are the FBI and NYPD, but there are over 50 city, state and national agencies that are a part of it. "Information sharing is a big part of it, but it goes beyond that. It's actually about coordinated action," said Charles Berger, assistant special agent-in-charge at the FBI's New York JTTF. The members of the JTTF work together to act against and prosecute perceived terror threats in the New York area. Circa also reached out to the NYPD and Mayor De Blasio's office, who declined to comment.
The NYPD came under scrutiny for spying on Muslim communities in New York, as was reported in a Pulitzer-winning series for the Associated Press. The NYPD sent officers to mosques, coffee shops, restaurants and Muslim student associations around the city, as outlined in a report from the City University of New York. Mayor Bill de Blasio has since appointed a federal judge to protect Muslims from unfair surveillance. "Does that mean that the surveillance of Muslims has ended? Obviously not, especially in the case of Nader right now," said Debbie Almontaser of the Muslim Community Network.
WATCH | Haram played at the annual Sam Vincent Foundation benefit on September 11, 2016.
This isn't the first time a movement within the hardcore punk scene has caught the attention of law enforcement. Friends Stand United or “Fuck Shit Up” (FSU), a national organization that started in the '90s in Massachusetts, was the subject of FBI investigations. The group claims to be an anti-racist group, driving out Nazis from punk clubs, but was monitored for using “violence to control” the hardcore punk rock music scene. Classified as a street gang by the FBI, FSU’s notoriety increased after the release of their 2004 street documentary called “Boston Beatdown II.”
Members of FSU emphatically describe their beatings while footage captures the violent actions. In 2009, the FBI indicted its alleged founder, Elgin Nathan James, on extortion charges.