One Man's War on Terror The American GI from Berlin
Part 2: 'We Can't Let These People Ruin our Lives'
When Bashir Jamaleldine arrived in Germany, he was a British subject. He had fled from the unrest in Sierra Leone, which eventually escalated into a protracted civil war. His life has taught him that war only generates more war, but never peace.
He settled in Frankfurt in 1970 and moved to Berlin two years later. At first he worked as a waiter in a restaurant called "International," then he landed a job as the head of the exotic fruits department at the city's upmarket KaDeWe department store. He called himself "Jimmy" at the time.
Globalization was responsible for scattering his family around the world long before most people had even heard of the term. His grandfather was Syrian, an adventurer with the looks of an English dandy, and his grandmother was from Ghana, which was still called the Gold Coast in those days. He was born in Gambia, in the 1940s, as the youngest of six children.
When asked about his ancestry and where he feels at home, Jeff Jamaleldine says that he has never liked being pigeonholed, especially after growing up being called an "Afro-Spandauer." He leads a life between countries and cultures, a life in the fast lane of global migration, a life that illustrates how ordinary people can turn into global citizens.
It was at Christmas 2006, when Jeff was already fighting for America, for his ideas of freedom and democracy, that he took advantage of his vacation to become a US citizen. It was a logical step, rather than some deeply felt desire. There is no country that he could call his own with real conviction. For Jeff Jamaleldine, it's as if he were working on a mosaic of his life and constantly having to deal with new pieces.
When he was 20, he applied, and was admitted, to Missouri Southern State College in Joplin, directly on Route 66, on a sports scholarship. He left Berlin in the summer of 1996 with two suitcases and the expectation that living in America would be like taking a spin in a Ferrari with Tom Selleck of "Magnum P.I." fame. Life in the United States had to be wilder and faster than life in Spandau.
But for Jamaleldine, life in America would mainly be hard work. He played soccer and went to school, first earning a bachelor's degree and later an MBA. He moved to Little Rock, where he worked at various jobs and eventually met his future wife, Zuhaira. Before long the couple had their first son. But life wasn't easy.
The events of Sep. 11, 2001 happened far away from his home, and yet they were very close to his life. Zuhaira, who grew up in the New York borough of Brooklyn, was working as a flight attendant on the day of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
At the time, Jamaleldine didn't feel the sense of outrage and personal assault that he would later experience. Like the rest of the world, Jamaleldine was horrified by the terrorist attacks and felt shock as he watched the images of the collapsing Twin Towers. But he managed to keep 9/11 separate from his own life -- a life of selling cars, waiting tables and helping to support a family.
But then terror struck again in April 2002, in Djerba, Tunisia. And in October of the same year, bombs ripped apart tourists on the Indonesian island of Bali. Attacks in Casablanca, Riyadh and Istanbul followed in 2003. And then, says Jamaleldine, came March 11, 2004, when 10 bombs blew up commuter trains in Madrid. In elections three days later, on March 14, the Spanish government was voted out of office, as if voters had allowed terror to control their decisions. That, at least, was the way Jamaleldine perceived it. "After all," he says, "it was Spain, not Togo or some other small country." That was the day his life took a new, dramatic turn.
He seems calm and extremely convincing when he tells his story. It's obvious that he means it when he says: "We can't let these people ruin our lives." More than just believing it, Jamaleldine made it his mission, a mission he never doubted then and still believes in today. He no longer wanted, as he says, "to be one of those people who make big speeches at their local bar, telling everyone what they would do if they were in charge, and then go home and turn on the TV." He wanted to stop being a spectator.
Jamaleldine turns 32 this April. When he was born, terrorism was synonymous with Carlos the Jackal, Palestinians hijacking airliners, Italy's Red Brigades and Germany's RAF. In the long run, these terrorists were defeated. In Jamaleldine's view, those terrorists were beaten because people were willing to stand up to them -- to act rather than just talk. "How can I say to my sons, stand up for something, fight for what you think is right, if I don't do anything myself?" he asks.
Making a Difference
His two sons, Aron and David, are two and eight. For the past two years, the family has been living in Opferbaum, a village in northern Bavaria between Schweinfurt and Würzburg, a place small enough that you can count the total number of houses during a short walk. There are two buses to the train station in Würzburg every morning and one returning to the village every evening.
In February 2006, the family moved to Opferbaum from the Ledward Barracks in Schweinfurt. Jeff had completed basic training and a special course at the army war college to become a cavalry scout. The code for his position in the US Army is 19-D, or 19-Delta, which represents one of the toughest jobs in the military: the job of working as a scout at the front and sometimes behind enemy lines.
Jamaleldine had deliberately signed up for the job without telling his father and without explaining to his wife, at least at first, exactly what he would be doing. He didn't want to be a driver, a logistics person or a mechanic. He wanted to be in the middle of the war, close to the enemy. He wanted, as he says, to be in a place "where I could make the biggest difference."
His apartment in Opferbaum is in a former parsonage next to the St. Lambertus Church on the village square. The plaque on an old war memorial in the middle of the square reads: "The Community of Opferbaum Honors Its Fallen Sons." Jamaleldine poses in front of the memorial in drizzling rain, wearing his "Class A" dress uniform: a cavalry Stetson on his head, golden spurs on his shoes and a jacket made of tough dark-green material.
A large red "1" on his left arm indicates that he is part of the First Infantry Division. The two stripes underneath the number mean that he has served two six-month tours of combat duty. Nine medals are pinned to his chest, just above his heart, the decorations of his military career so far. They show that he was wounded twice. The expert insignia indicates that he is also capable of wounding and killing others with cool precision. He is a "Marksman M-4," trained to hit anything, moving or stationary, at a distance of 300 meters (985 feet). Anything? "Anything," says Jamaleldine.