How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America

How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America

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by Moustafa Bayoumi
     
 

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An eye-opening look at how young Arab- and Muslim- Americans are forging lives for themselves in a country that often mistakes them for the enemy

Just over a century ago , W.E.B. Du Bois posed a probing question in his classic The Souls of Black Folk: How does it feel to be a problem? Now, Moustafa Bayoumi asks the same about America's new

Overview

An eye-opening look at how young Arab- and Muslim- Americans are forging lives for themselves in a country that often mistakes them for the enemy

Just over a century ago , W.E.B. Du Bois posed a probing question in his classic The Souls of Black Folk: How does it feel to be a problem? Now, Moustafa Bayoumi asks the same about America's new "problem"-Arab- and Muslim-Americans. Bayoumi takes readers into the lives of seven twenty-somethings living in Brooklyn, home to the largest Arab-American population in the United States. He moves beyond stereotypes and clichés to reveal their often unseen struggles, from being subjected to government surveillance to the indignities of workplace discrimination. Through it all, these young men and women persevere through triumphs and setbacks as they help weave the tapestry of a new society that is, at its heart, purely American.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“As Moustafa Bayoumi argues in his provocative investigation, young Arab-Americans are still struggling to define their identities in a hostile environment and to cope with the governments distrust…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.”
—Francine Prose, O Magazine

“In How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? Bayoumi…gives twenty-something Arab-Americans the chance to talk about their victories and defeats.”
—The Wall Street Journal 

“These are great stories about people who might be your neighbors, and Bayoumi delivers them with urgency, compassion, wryness and hints of poetry. You may walk away from the book with a much greater understanding of Arab-American life, but you'll feel that's simply because you've hung out with Bayoumi and friends, snarfing down Dunkin' Donuts or puffing on hookahs, talking about vital issues.”
—Salon.com 

“Bayoumi's book fascinates.”
—Deborah Douglas, Chicago Sun-Times 

“Moustafa Bayoumi's How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? has an intimate feel, as the author listens closely to the dreams and realities of seven young Arabs living in post-9/11 America.”
—Dallas Morning News 

“an indispensable guide…a well-written book on a subject that is often overlooked or treated as a side note to bigger problems, like the occupation of Iraq, Israeli aggression and civil liberties.”
—The Arab American News 

“Bayoumi succeeds in presenting the reader with more than just a glimpse into these lives. One is right there with Rasha, a Palestinian-American teenager, who was detained along with the rest of her family without reason following 9/11. This first story is the most chilling as one can sense the frustration and dread emanating from Rasha’s story. I have heard about things like this happening but to actually read about 19-year-old Rasha and what she and her entire family had to endure is something else. Bayoumi’s decision to talk to Arabs from Brooklyn was a wise one as these stories are reflections from a group of people that not only have bared the brunt of discrimination, but call New York City their home and therefore, 9/11 affected them as it did most New Yorkers. By providing a book accessible to the masses, Bayoumi gives the Arab problem a very human face that other Americans can empathize with.”
—MediaandIslam.com 

“Bayoumi offers a revealing portrait of life for people who are often scrutinized but seldom heard from.”
—Booklist(starred review) 

“In many ways, [Bayoumi’s] absorbing and affectionate book is a quintessentially American picture of 21st century citizens ‘absorbing and refracting all the ethnicities and histories surrounding [them].’ However, the testimonies from these young adults—summary seizures from their homes, harassment from strangers, being fired for having an Arab or Muslim name—have a weight and a sorrow that is ‘often invisible to the general public.’”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review) 

"The book’s title derives from a question posed by W.E.B. Du Bois in The Souls of Black Folk, and given the burgeoning of anti-Arab, anti-Muslim sentiments since 9/11, the author’s appropriation of it seems apt. [Bayoumi] poignantly portrays young people coming of age at a time when “informants and spies are regular topics of conversation…friendships are tested, trust disappears.””
—Kirkus Reviews 

"Wholly intelligent and sensitively-drawn, How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? is an important investigation into the hearts and minds of young Arab-Americans. This significant and eminently readable work breaks through preconceptions and delivers a fresh take on a unique and vital community. Moustafa Bayoumi's voice is refreshingly frank, personable, and true."
—Diana Abu-Jaber, author of Origin, Crescent, and The Language of Baklava 

“In relating the gripping personal stories of seven young Arab and Muslim Americans from Brooklyn in How Does it Feel to be a Problem, Moustafa Bayoumi reveals the feelings and frustrations of the current era's scapegoats, who can be demonized, profiled, and reviled without fear of sanction. His book shows both the dimensions of this new problem for American society, and the hopeful signs that this problem too can be overcome.”
—Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies, Columbia University and author of The Iron Cage 

“Suspenseful storytelling and rich detail make How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? required reading for Americans yearning for knowledge about Islam and their Muslim neighbors in the United States. In a series of fascinating narratives about the horrors and conflicts young Muslim-Americans faced after 9/11, Moustafa Bayoumi has written a work that is passionate, yet measured, humorous, and above all enlightening.”
—Geneive Abdo, author of Mecca and Main Street: Muslim Life in America After 9/11 

"With deft prose, acute insight and extensive reporting, Moustafa Bayoumi has produced truly engrossing portraits of young Muslim Americans about whom we usually hear only empty polemics. With a light touch, he gives voice to people who are referred to often and heard from rarely. The result is a sense of the tentative resistance of a besieged generation, as well as their determination to force America to be true to its promise even if it means confronting prejudice in its practice." 
—Gary Younge, author of Stranger in a Strange Land: Encounters in the Disunited States and No Place Like Home —This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Publishers Weekly

According to Bayoumi (The Edward Said Reader), for most of its history, American society has paid little attention to its Arab and Muslim citizens-until the events of September 11 thrust millions of uninvolved people into a very unfavorable limelight, often forcing them to answer for the monstrous deeds of others. The author profiles seven young people for whom that day's horrors were not just a shared national tragedy but the beginning of a struggle to define themselves, as they began to face pervasive workplace discrimination and government surveillance, cultural misunderstanding and threats of violence. In many ways, his absorbing and affectionate book is a quintessentially American picture of 21st-century citizens "absorbing and refracting all the ethnicities and histories surrounding [them]." However, the testimonies from these young adults-summary seizures from their homes, harassment from strangers, being fired for having an Arab or Muslim name-have a weight and a sorrow that is "often invisible to the general public." Says Akram, a Palestinian-American college student, "I love the diversity of this country, I really do, but the whole politics.... America's not America anymore to me." (Aug.)

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Kirkus Reviews
Nonfiction debut profiles seven young Brooklyn residents of Arab-Muslim heritage whose lives redefine the American dream of their parents' generation. The book's title derives from a question posed by W.E.B. Du Bois in The Souls of Black Folk, and given the burgeoning of anti-Arab, anti-Muslim sentiments since 9/11, the author's appropriation of it seems apt. Himself of Arab and Muslim descent, Bayoumi (English/Brooklyn Coll.) poignantly portrays young people coming of age at a time when "informants and spies are regular topics of conversation . . . friendships are tested, trust disappears." His first subject, Rasha, endured a middle-of-the-night FBI raid on her family's home in 2002. Agents handcuffed them-her eldest brother's legs were shackled as well, after the heavy sleeper responded angrily upon being shaken awake-and forced Rasha's father to leave his two youngest sons (the family's only U.S. citizens) with a neighbor. After three months in prison, they were released (it's unclear if any charges were ever filed), and Rasha never forgot this demonstration of what had happened to human rights in post-9/11 America. Probing into his interviewees' domestic, vocational, civic, philosophical and religious concerns, the Swiss-born, Canadian-raised, U.S.-schooled author made generally good use of his multicultural passport. He gained access to mosques, insider cafes, conversations and disclosures not granted to outsiders. The proximity often works in the book's favor, allowing him to glean interesting insights. Visiting Akram at the family-run East Flatbush grocery store where he worked for his father (while attending college fulltime), the author observed an intimacy that transcended racebetween the Palestinian-American proprietors and their West Indian and African-American customers. However, Bayoumi's sympathy for his subjects sometimes shades over into identification, and the mix of academic background material with first-person narrative can be jarring. A slightly disjointed narrative structure enfolds some compelling personal stories. Agent: Katherine Fausset/Curtis Brown

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780143115410
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
07/28/2009
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
122,519
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Moustafa Bayoumi was born in Zurich, Switzerland, and raised in Canada. He earned his Ph.D. at Columbia University and is an associate professor of English at Brooklyn College, the City University of New York. He is coeditor of The Edward Said Reader, and his essays have appeared in The Best Music Writing 2006, The Nation, The London Review of Books, The Village Voice, and other publications. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Nadeem_Muaddi More than 1 year ago
Moustafa Bayoumi's profile of seven Brooklyn-based Arab-Americans and their diverse experiences living in a post-9-11 America is not only interesting and insightful, but refreshing too. At a time when it seems like everyone but Arab-Americans is being given the opportunity to speak on behalf of the community, Bayoumi goes straight to the source and allows Arab-American youth to explain who they are and what they're experiencing for themselves. The book's only shortcoming is that it doesn't fully represent the Arab-American community. Though the majority of Arab-Americans are Christian, Bayoumi only shares the story of one. In the preface of his book, Bayoumi states his reasoning: "...Arab-American Muslims are at the eye of today's storms. They are forced to reconcile particular American foreign policies that affect their countries of origin with the idea that their faith poses an existential threat to Western civilization." Though Bayoumi's assertion is correct, his reason for choosing to focus more on Arab-American Muslims than Arab-American Christians is far from convincing. Arab-American Christians must also reconcile certain American policies (both foreign and domestic) with their love and dedication to both their ancestral homelands and new homeland. They also face the same social and political backlash associated with being an Arab or Muslim in a post-9-11 America. Arab-American Christians find themselves in an even more precarious position in that they're often forced to serve as a bridge between their Arab-American Muslim brethren and non-Arab/Muslim Americans. In many cases, Arab-American Christians have even taken a leading role in educating non-Arab/Muslim Americans about Islam. While those that do may feel a sense of duty to serve as their brother's keeper, most also recognize that popular misconceptions about Muslims also affect them. After all, few - if any - Arab-American Christians haven't been touched by the racial profiling, discrimination and violence directed towards Muslim-looking people since 9-11. In this sense, Arab-American Christians are direct stakeholders in how non-Arab/Muslim Americans treat Muslims in America. Bayoumi makes an attempt to address these issues in his story of Sami - an Arab-American Christian who "must navigate the minefield of associations the public has of Arabs as well as the expectations that Muslim Arab Americans have of him as an Arab-American soldier." Sadly, Sami's account is less relatable to Arab-American Christians as are the six other stories of Arab-American Muslims - as he doesn't even self-identify as being an Arab-American. In Bayoumi's defense, he never asserts that the stories he shares in this book represent all, or even most, Arab-Americans. In fact, he states: "...I make no claims that these seven narratives touch on every detail of Arab-American life." However, his decision to present a more rounded picture of the post 9-11 Arab-American Muslim experience over that of Arab-American Christians renders his book more useful to readers wanting to understand what it feels like to be young and an Arab-Muslim in America - not what it's like "Being Young and Arab in America."