Moustafa Bayoumi Reflects on Personal Experiences As a Muslim-American in Modern America

trynne.religiontalk0007After a brief encounter with David Fricke, Sports Information Director, in New York City, Dr. Moustafa Bayoumi, a writer and a professor of English at Brooklyn College, was invited to Andover last Thursday evening to speak. In his presentation titled “This Muslim American Life: Dispatches from the War on Terror and the Presidential Election,” Bayoumi shared what it means to be Muslim-American in modern U.S. society, post-9/11.

“There’s a cliché that says ‘you only write the book that you want to read,’ and I think that was the case. A lot of these [racial] issues I find important, partly because they impact me personally but also because they are very important politically for the health of our society. I don’t see them discussed often enough, so I feel as if I don’t see it then someone else has to do it, so I try,” said Bayoumi in an interview with The Phillipian. In his presentation, Bayoumi addressed the impact that the attacks of September 11, 2001 had on views towards Muslims in the U.S.

“Before the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in 2001, I think it’s fair to say that a lot of Americans thought very little of Islam. When they thought about Islam, they always thought about it happening someplace else… After 9/11, that drastically changed. By the time [we] were reaching 2008, and especially 2010, [we] were reaching about 48% of the population [saying] that they personally [harbored] prejudice against Muslims,” said Bayoumi in his presentation.

Bayoumi witnessed his colleagues and students at Brooklyn College being spied upon by the New York City Police Department (NYPD). This program spied on members of the Muslim community, including Bayoumi, regardless of whether or not they had any ties to terrorism.

“[The NYPD] had been, in fact, spying on every level of community life. It wasn’t just that they were spying on people involved with some illegal procedure; it wasn’t that somebody’s behavior was determining this level of surveillance. It was actually a generalized surveillance along the whole stretch of the Muslim community,” said Bayoumi.

“Often times, we are told that if we are not doing anything wrong, there shouldn’t be anything to fear. But despite not doing anything wrong, despite living a very clear life, there is this fear that people will take what you say out of context,” continued Bayoumi.

Bayoumi expanded his point by comparing the associations of Muslims as terrorists to the accusations of communism among the American public during the Cold War era. From the way the media spread paranoia of communism to the legal and political systems both reforming the mindset of Americans toward one another, Bayoumi explained their similarities.

Zizo Bahnasy ’17, an audience member at Bayoumi’s lecture and the co-head of Muslim Student Association and Middle East North African Association on campus, reflected on Bayoumi’s presentation.

“He gives me hope – you don’t [often] see Muslims who go out of their way to be a part of this assimilated American culture because they feel so foreign to it. I feel as if I can tackle these issues as a result of people like Dr. Bayoumi… He is going out and putting [facts and statistics] together and making sure people understand Muslims are not the problem,” said Bahnasy.

Bayoumi concluded his lecture with a question and answer session. During this time, he re-addressed the themes discussed throughout his lecture.

“I hope that [audience members] walk away thinking a little bit more critically [about] this War on Terror that we are living in right now. [I hope] they’ll have a little more perspective [in] the presidential election as well, and [also] think about the role that the United States plays in the world,” said Bayoumi in an interview with The Phillipian.

Bayoumi is the author of How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America and This Muslim American Life: Dispatches from the War on Terror.