How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?

by

Moustafa Bayoumi

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Rasha Character Analysis

The first of Bayoumi’s seven main subjects, Rasha is a Syrian American in her early 20s who moved to Brooklyn with her family at an early age. During high school, just after September 11, she is arbitrarily thrown in jail with her family for three months, like thousands of others, simply because she is an Arab Muslim and therefore under suspicion “for possible terrorism connections.” The experience is devastating and degrading—prison guards treat her, her sister Reem, and her mother like “a subhuman species,” and her friends at school, Gaby and Nicky, are dumbfounded and worried at her abrupt disappearance. After her release, she is ecstatic to see the sky for the first time in months, but her family remains scarred by their detention and she is distraught to see prejudice against Muslims all around her. As of the book’s publication, she is hoping to pursue a career in human rights. Her story demonstrates the severe, often forgotten human consequences of the American government’s draconian crackdown on Arabs and Muslims after September 11, but also the passionate dedication to social change that can emerge from the experience of injustice.

Rasha Quotes in How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?

The How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? quotes below are all either spoken by Rasha or refer to Rasha. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? published in 2008.
Rasha Quotes

“If there's anything that I've discovered out of this whole thing, it's that people take for granted being a citizen of this country. They don't see the importance of having a privilege like that. I've been in this country for eighteen years, and I'm working hard, and I'm qualified, but I've missed all these opportunities. I feel like it should be a lot easier than this. It's not fun. It's not fun at all.”

Related Characters: Rasha (speaker)
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:
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How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? PDF

Rasha Character Timeline in How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?

The timeline below shows where the character Rasha appears in How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Rasha
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
Riding the nearly-empty subway to university one afternoon, Rasha accidently makes eye contact with a homeless man and “finds the connection rapturous.” Later, she... (full context)
Arab American Identities Theme Icon
Faith, Tradition, and Islam Theme Icon
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
Rasha is petite, modest, with the “hard fragility” of “a pessimist brimming with humanist hope.” Born... (full context)
Arab American Identities Theme Icon
In 1996, with their asylum applications stalling, the family returns to Syria; Rasha finds school difficult. They discover they have won a green card interview, but since they... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
One night in February of 2002, Rasha is shaken awake by the police in the middle of the night to find her... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Arab American Identities Theme Icon
Years before, in Syria, Rasha learned to shoot a gun and worship the nation’s president in school. While her family... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
Rasha, her mother, and her older sister Reem go to Bergen County Jail in New Jersey,... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Faith, Tradition, and Islam Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
Rasha watches her mother pray and befriend other inmates. Meanwhile, Rasha grows closer to her sister... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Gaby and Nicky are confused: Rasha has disappeared. A family friend of Rasha’s explains what happened, and they are all frightened.... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
Helping their mother keeps Rasha and Reem sane—when a tyrannical counselor denies her the right to call her son, Rasha’s... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
Suddenly, near the beginning of May, Rasha and her whole family are freed with no warning or explanation. An immigration officer tells... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
Rasha’s parents sell their house and she tries to explain to the dean of her university... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Unlike Rasha and her family, most of the people arbitrarily and indefinitely detained after 9/11 have no... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Arab American Identities Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
...government is “blurring the distinction between alien, criminal, and terrorist.” The system lets people like Rasha sit in detention indefinitely, without having committed a crime, while both public and private prisons... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
The weekend after her release, at dinner with her friends, Rasha is astonished to see the counselor who made her mother cry in prison sitting at... (full context)
Afterword
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
...lose civil rights thereafter: more than 5,000 people are detained immediately after September 11, including Rasha’s family, and over 170,000 people are subjected to “Special Registration” in the following years, with... (full context)