They were Americans—until 9/11. A new book explores what it means to be a young Arab in these United States.
How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? By Moustafa Bayoumi
304 pages; Penguin
Right after 9/11, Americans grew all too accustomed to disturbing reports of Muslim women harassed for wearing headscarves, of blameless Arab men detained as suspected terrorists. Since then, the frequency and severity of these incidents seems to have decreased. But as Moustafa Bayoumi argues in his provocative investigation, How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? (Penguin), young Arab-Americans are still struggling to define their identities in a hostile environment and to cope with the government's mistrust. Bayoumi focuses on seven men and women, all in their 20s, all residents of Brooklyn—and all with painful, often heartbreaking stories to tell about their lives in this country. He interviews Rasha, who emigrated from Syria at 5, and who, in 2002, was wrongfully jailed with her parents and siblings. He talks to Sami, a Manhattan-born Christian from an Egyptian-Palestinian background who enlisted in the Marines before 9/11 and found himself in the midst of tense confrontations in Iraq, and to Omar, who suspects that his prized internship in the UN press office of Al-Jazeera has made it much harder for him to find a network media job. Rami is typical of the young Muslims whose faith grew more fervent in the wake of 9/11, just as Lina, born in Kuwait to Iraqi parents, represents the many Arabs who travel back and forth from their adopted country to their homeland, living "somewhere between geographies." The most encouraging chapter concerns Yasmin, a brave young woman who fought hard and earned the right to hold a student government office at her high school without having to compromise her religious principles. Yasmin's story reminds us why, despite what they have suffered and continue to endure, Bayoumi and his interview subjects still hope that America is a place where they can live in peace—and find justice, fairness, and freedom.