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

4.4 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1594201769
ISBN-10: 1594201765
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Editorial Reviews


“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.”

“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.”

“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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The (August 14, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594201765
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594201769
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #320,247 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

Top Customer Reviews

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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3 Comments 19 of 21 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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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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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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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.
1 Comment 7 of 8 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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By Jeany Rhys on 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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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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