He shines a ligh in dark places. Not dark in the sense of bleak and without hope, but dark in the sense of underreported and mostly known.
Bayoumi's latest book is “How Does It Feel To Be A Problem? Being Young and Arab in America," and it just so happens that the subjects have been an interest and concern of mine for many years.
Since September 11, 2001, in fact.
I remember well walking over the Brooklyn Bridge in the wake of the attack, trekking from Brooklyn to the World Trade Center site, to see up close the throat-gripping devastation.
On the way to the bridge that night, I had been listening to a song by the Staple Singers, "Reach Out Touch a Hand, Make a Friend if You Can." It stayed with me that tune, all through my lonely jaunt around Lower Manhattan; and I vowed that in my work as a journalist I would reach out to the Muslim immigrant community in New York.
For the following two years I did precisely that, writing scores of articles about Muslims in the city.
Now it is with great delight that I present to you English professor Bayoumi's book, which (in words from his website, moustafabayoumi.com) "introduces us to the individual lives of seven twentysomething men and women living in Brooklyn, home to the largest number of Arab Americans in the United States."
The professor affirms what I have previously declared on this website, that "Brooklyn is the Mecca of Arab-America."
His real-life characters are youngsters from Brooklyn, struggling to make it in a country that views them through lenses not quite rose-colored.
From an exceprt on Professor Bayoumi's website, we are introduced to an "American Girl" name Rasha, whose story (with Bayoumi's byline) appeared in New York magazine. The tale is gripping, full of sadness and also full of (as many Brooklynites would say) chutzpah, as this young lady heroically survives post-9/11 mistreatment by some of her countrymen (that is to say, her fellow Americans).
(Read it here.)
It so happens that Rasha went to James Madison High School, the very one attended by a young immigrant I had written about after 9/11, an immigrant who in fact suffered indignities similar to Rasha's.
Faisal Iqbal had had played football at James Madison and graduated from there. But that didn't stop federal agents from raiding his home after 9/11 and arresting him for some neglected immigrated paper work, which he (having been here many years with his family) was unaware of.
The same fate befell countless Muslim immigrants in Brooklyn. Many were, like Faisal Iqbal, Pakistanis and, therefore, not Arabs; but effectively the Egyptians, Syrians, Palestinians and Pakistanis all fit the same molds in the minds of many other Americans.
As with Rasha, Faisal Iqbal saw a happy ending. A week after my story appeared in Newsday, he was released from custody.
You should know that James Madison High School stands out in the country for its illustrious alumni, including three (current or recent) U.S. Senators, Chuck Schumer being one. The others are Bernard Sanders of Vermont and Norm Coleman of Minnesota. (Coleman, a Republican, was beaten in a tense, unusually close contest against Democrat Al Franken, who stands ready to occupy the seat as Coleman challenges the official outcome.)
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and four Nobel Prize winners are also among James Madison's graduates, by the way. (See a list of notable alumni.)
Perhaps the most enjoyable segment of this posting comes last, with our offer of a CUNY podcast in which young, up-and-coming journalist Sudip Mukherjee (a recent Hunter College grad) interviews Professor Bayoumi. You can visit cuny.edu's podcast page and find the Bayoumi entry, or you can click (the right-pointing arrow on) the image following here and listen.