How Does it Feel to Be a Problem? – Book Review

by Bushra on August 20, 2008

With his book, How Does it Feel to Be a Problem, author Moustafa Bayoumi writes about Arabs coping with their home, the United States, turning their back on them in this post 9/11 world we live in.

Book Cover
According to the introduction (necessary reading in the case of this book), Bayoumi sought out what it was like to be a young, Arab-American and therefore a ‘problem’ in the United States. His quest ultimately brought him to Brooklyn, New York, where he found the people he discussed in the chapters of his book. The 7 people include Arabs of Palestinian, Syrian, Egyptian, and Iraqi descent, as well as mixture of races. All of these people have been raised in the United States.

Most of these people, while identifying that being Arab has in some way, shape, or form, has negatively effected their life after 9/11, still embrace their Arab side. For instance, one chapter is devoted to Omar, who can easily hide his Arab side because of his half Chilean background. Instead, he finds that he relates more to his Arab side than is South American one.

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.

The other narratives, if maybe not as traumatic, are just as powerful: an Arab-Christian who joined the Marines prior to 9/11 and his experiences in Iraq during the occupation, a hijab wearing Muslima facing discrimination in school, a boy turning to Islam while dealing with growing up and going to college without his imprisoned father, and other such stories.

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.

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