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Dispatches from the War on Terror

by Moustafa Bayoumi

Pub Date: Sept. 18th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-4798-3564-5
Publisher: New York Univ.

Closely observed, somewhat repetitive collection of mostly previously published essays by the author of the award-winning How Does It Feel To Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America (2009).

Chagrined about the treatment of Muslim Americans after 9/11 and still puzzling over even more strenuous anti-Muslim demonstrations since the election of President Barack Obama, Bayoumi (English/Brooklyn Coll.) probes the so-called “War on Terror culture,” which ascribes a malevolent aspect to all things Muslim. As he did in his previous work, observing the lives of young Arab-American men and women in his own town of Brooklyn, the author examines the stories of people targeted unfairly as suspicious aliens simply because of their ethnic background, beginning with the Syrian traders who flocked to the United States in the 19th century. Establishing thriving communities in Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan, exactly where the World Trade towers stood, the first Arab Muslims suffered the same fate under early exclusionary immigration laws as the Asians, although the courts decided in a number of significant cases—e.g., that of Ahmed Hassan in Detroit in 1942—whether Arabs were white or not and could be excluded from naturalization due to their religion. In a series of essays in which themes and motifs overlap and repeat, Bayoumi critiques the New York Police Department’s invasive surveillance of American Muslim communities (“Fear and Loathing of Islam”); the U.S. government’s program of “special registration” of nonimmigrant men from Muslim-majority countries, which prompted the author’s first book (“White with Rage”); how Arabs and Muslims are “racialized” and demonized as blacks were previously (“The Race Is On”); and how many films and TV shows reflect American culture’s bias and stereotypes about Muslims. Bayoumi sagely points out the reigning ignorance about Muslim culture and how the “right-wing lunacy” has largely co-opted “the direction of global politics” (“Men Behaving Badly”).

A thoughtful study, certainly relevant if occasionally one-noted.