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

by Moustafa Bayoumi
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)


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Book Description

August 14, 2008 1594201765 978-1594201769
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.


Editorial Reviews

Review

“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.

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.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The (August 14, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594201765
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594201769
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #103,458 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Moustafa Bayoumi was born in Zürich, Switzerland, grew up in Kingston, Canada, and moved to the United States in 1990 to attend Columbia University, where he received his Ph.D. in English literature. He is currently a professor of English at Brooklyn College, City University of New York. He is also the author of "How Does It Feel To Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America" (Penguin), which won an American Book Award and the Arab American Book Award for Non-Fiction. (The book has also been translated into Arabic by Arab Scientific Publishers.) His writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, New York Magazine, The National, The Guardian, CNN.com, The London Review of Books, The Nation, and many other places. His essay "Disco Inferno" was included in the collection "Best Music Writing of 2006" (DaCapo). He is also the co-editor (with Andrew Rubin) of "The Edward Said Reader" (Vintage) and editor of "Midnight on Mavi Marmara: the Attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and How It Changed the Course of the Israel/Palestine Conflict" (O/R Books and Haymarket Books). He has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Sun-Times, and on CNN, FOX News, Book TV, National Public Radio, and many other media outlets from around the world. Panel discussions on "How Does It Feel To Be a Problem?" have been convened at The Museum of the City of New York, Drexel Law School, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, and through PEN American Center, and the book has been chosen as the common reading for incoming freshmen at universities across the country. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Being Young and an Arab-Muslim in America December 6, 2009
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.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended October 12, 2008
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.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful, richly told stories October 2, 2008
By Yasmin
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.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Illuminating and Necessary Read October 3, 2008
By Sami
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.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars !!! October 7, 2008
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars nutty buddy November 6, 2011
Format:Hardcover
I was assigned to read this book for my Muslim's in America class at UC Berkeley. I loved it, couldn't put it down; read it in two days. I hope the writer does a follow up on all these people!!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eye-opening and poetic April 1, 2011
Format:Paperback
I've ridden the same bus for 6 months now and reading this book last night was the first time I've ever missed my stop. I didn't want this book to end, I didn't want to put it down, I didn't want to do anything else but read. Bayoumi's poetic language brought each story to life. This book will make you angry and optimistic in almost equal amounts. Hopefully this book will also make you think about how Muslims in this country have been treated since 9/11. I can't recommend it highly enough. Beautiful, thought-provoking and absolutely essential reading for the informed citizen.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful Stories
Loved the book. Used it as a book report for a grad class. Great book with lots of insights into people lives and how racial profiling and racism effects everyone.
Published 24 days ago by claychica
5.0 out of 5 stars Read and experience racism
Wow! If you want to know what it feels like to be a Muslem in our country, read this book. Misunderstandings and assumptions can sure label a person and judge and condemn them... Read more
Published 4 months ago by F. Mervin Baker
1.0 out of 5 stars Shortfall of Potential
The book had a lot of potential to really speak out about tolerance and understanding of the Arabs, but I found it to be outdated after so many years and it felt at times like it... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Faith Campbell
5.0 out of 5 stars Great insight into the lives of a few arab americans
This book gives amazing insight into the daily and life struggles that Arab Americans endure. I do not usually get emotional very easily, but multiple times while reading this book... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Anthony
5.0 out of 5 stars Elucidation
I honestly wanted to hate this book... it seemed like some liberal BS that was just written to make white males feel more racist and etc. Read more
Published 6 months ago by B. Coble
4.0 out of 5 stars Important book to get a conversation about a racism and profiling
I came across this book in an article in the local Sunday paper as the author will be appearing at Millersville University. Read more
Published 7 months ago by K. Sue
5.0 out of 5 stars love it
this is an excellent book. i was flying to Europe, i decided to read this book to pass the time, well the time flew by. Very interesting book. I highly recommend reading it.
Published 8 months ago by shaden kassar
5.0 out of 5 stars A Rather Enjoyable Summer Reading
I was required to read this as part of my freshman orientation at college. The stories are very interesting and Moustafa uses diction that makes them even more enjoyable to read. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Aaron
3.0 out of 5 stars Not new
The price was reasonable for the condition of the book, but the book was most definitely not in "new" condition when I received it. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Crystal2318
3.0 out of 5 stars Average
Bent cover, i can see that it wasn't well taken care of, but it wasnt ripped to shreds, so i guess its okay
Published 10 months ago by Levi
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