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How Does It Feel To Be A Problem? [Hardcover]

Moustafa Bayoumi


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Book Description

Aug. 19 2008
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.

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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About 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.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  31 reviews
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Being Young and an Arab-Muslim in America Dec 6 2009
By Nadeem Muaddi - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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."

Bayoumi's assertion may be correct, but doesn't adequately explain his decision to focus more on Arab-American Muslims than Arab-American Christians.

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 experience of Arab-American Muslims 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."
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended Oct. 12 2008
By Ziad Rizk - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
By taking us inside the lives and minds of young Arab Americans living in Brooklyn, a microcosm of the diverse United States, Bayoumi helps us understand what it means to be young and arab in America today. The short stories covering seven different personalities make the narrative very accessible and the book an easy read. The characters themselves are extremely diverse affording the reader a good coverage of different strata of the Arab American society. From a religious young girl in veil fighting against discrimination, to a marine, a patriotic American fighting in Iraq torn between the Arab and American cultures, to a young grocery store worker inspired by the American dream... each story is unique and heart filled.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful, richly told stories Oct. 2 2008
By Yasmin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
As someone who has worked almost 10 years with young Arab-Americans, I found this to be a very insightful glimpse into the lives of a little understood community. So many people talk about young Arab-Americans - a population often described as a "homegrown threat" or somehow radical - yet how often do we hear what they think, in their own words?

In this book, Bayoumi is granted unique access into the lives of these young people, allowing him to tell each story colorfully and to share their most innermost feelings. The internal conflicts they experience as Arabs and Americans are instructive, as they reflect the greatest political and cultural challenges facing our world today.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Illuminating and Necessary Read Oct. 3 2008
By Sami - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
What Moustafa Bayoumi captures in his latest work is what many have been yearning for since 9/11 in the Arab American community: an encapsulation and presentation of the voice of the unheard. Too often, our history--even as it unfolds--is told by our neighbors, by our news stations, and by those who seek us harm for perceived personal or communal benefit.

I believe the concept of this book is as important as what fills its pages. Shedding light on the lives of the castigated, Bayoumi engages the outside world with human stories seen through a human lens. Bayoumi masterfully graces the page with a rich and unique style of description, making this read not only intense, but enjoyable.

I highly recommend this book to anyone seeking understanding into the mindset of many Arab Americans today.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars !!! Oct. 7 2008
By Jeany Rhys - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
As Americans become more engrossed in our current political stresses, a book like this seems more timely everyday. And in our post-9/11 society, I think it is becoming so important to be aware of how Arab Americans are being used as scapegoats and discriminated against in a way that seems acceptable to many Americans.
I felt that Bayoumi did such a good job of connecting the modes of past prejudices to our contemporary situation, driving home the point that this country is far from over racism. The stories of the people whom the author follows are at points touching, and nothing makes a stronger example than the lives of actual people.

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