The Terrorist Who Wasn't

Hollywood's Manny Ebaid struggles to rebound after the War on Terror made him collateral damage

They laugh.

"How long were you in, six months?" the man asks.

"Eight months," Ebaid answers in a low voice.

Manny Ebaid: "I lost everything. All my dreams, everything I 
worked so hard for, gone. Gone, just like that."
Colby Katz
Manny Ebaid: "I lost everything. All my dreams, everything I worked so hard for, gone. Gone, just like that."
Ebaid works long hours trying to rebuild his business and his reputation
Ebaid works long hours trying to rebuild his business and his reputation

"Eight months, huh?" the man says, turning to his friends. "Then they let him out when they realized they made a mistake." He pauses. "You got any baklava?"

"Of course!" Ebaid replies, springing from his chair. "Of course!"

Nothing seems to hold Manny Ebaid down. On a recent late night, while his employees are cleaning the restaurant, he enters his office and pulls out a large folder filled with handwritten recipes. "I'm going to revolutionize the food industry in America," he says in all seriousness.

The Hollywood restaurateur wants to bring to the United States konafa, a Middle Eastern dessert of lightly shredded pastry dough that is layered and baked. Popular during special occasions and the holy month of Ramadan, konafa is generally mixed with coconut and vanilla to create a sweet dessert in the Arab world. But Ebaid has a twist for the Western palate: He wants to use konafa to create everything from lamb sandwiches to mango-flavor desserts.

"It could replace the hot dog at carnivals," he says, his fist waving in excitement. But he suddenly stops. His face changes. His eyes turn red. Tears stream down both cheeks as he tries to hold back his emotions. He buries his head in his hands. For Ebaid, talking about his goals and ambitions often comes with a painful reminder of how much he has lost.

"The whole thing is unjust. They took everything," he says, referring to the government. "They took my energy, mentally and physically. Instead of putting it in my work and my business, I had to use it to fight these charges. Even today I'm not getting nowhere.

"Recently I've had bad thoughts," he continues. "Sometimes I think I want to leave, and I don't want anybody to know where I'm going. Just leave. You can't explain everything. Stuff that comes from inside, the heart, you can't explain it. It's just what I think of sometimes, to go. It's not hiding, not scared, not fear. I feel like I am in a cage. There are no bars, but it's jail with no bars, prison with no bars. And I want to get out of this prison.

"I always smile and laugh. But the last two weeks, I don't know what has happened. I don't want to show this side to my customers. I want people to see me happy, the way I used to be. I'm always smiling, I'm always joking, I'm always dancing. These last two weeks, I have just been feeling the hurt, the pain. And I worry sometimes that people will see the hurt in my eyes. They will see me smile, they will see me laugh, but then they will look into my eyes and they will know. They will see the pain I have in here, inside.

"My life is an open book. There is nothing to hide. I work every day, crazy hours. When would I have time to associate with terrorists? But I want everyone to know that I do not hate them for what they did. Lately I've been feeling heat — not hate, heat. It's in my heart and my mind. I don't know what would happen if I lost control of the heat. Thank God. It's like something that burns inside me. Sometimes I want to take that heat into my hands and do physical pain to myself, hurt me. I would not hurt anybody, though. I would never hurt another man. As you can see, I am not a big man. But I know if I allowed myself to release this heat, to turn outward, I would be more invincible than anything."

Ebaid stops. He's exhausted. Later that night, after all of his employees have gone home, Ebaid sits at one of the tables. The lights off, he stares out the window for several hours, thinking, until finally he falls asleep.

Dressed in a loose button-up shirt and khaki pants on a recent evening, Ebaid moves around his restaurant, distributing menus and greeting customers. The dinner rush is ending, but the restaurant remains busy. Ebaid smiles. Business is good tonight.

That means Ebaid is guaranteed to be asked at least once what it's like to be an accused terrorist.

"These days I have nothing to say when someone asks me 'What happened?' I don't know the answer," he says. "What I did and why — the whole thing is a question mark. Sometimes the story of what happened seems very dramatic, very passionate. And other times, it's like a comedy. It really is. You might not believe this, but I don't wish anything bad to happen to anyone who caused this. I don't wish bad on anybody."

Next door to Ebaid's restaurant, at Kelly's Pub, a T-shirt hangs in the window. It shows a cartoon image of Osama bin Laden at a bar holding a pint of Guinness. "You won't find me any time at Kelly's," the T-shirt reads — and Ebaid considers it a backhanded reference to the restaurateur himself.

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