How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?

by

Moustafa Bayoumi

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The American Federal Bureau of Investigation, the nation’s main domestic surveillance, security, and counter-terrorism agency. Despite its noble aims, the FBI has been responsible for numerous human rights violations since its creation in 1908, including illegally spying on American citizens and government officials around the world; sabotaging and murdering communists, civil rights activists, and Puerto Rican independence leaders; and arbitrarily detaining people solely on the basis of ethnicity, race, or religion (including Rasha and her family). Since the September 11 attacks, Arabs and Muslims have become the FBI’s primary target, which has made many of the young people Bayoumi interviewed lose their sense of trust in the American government and even many of the people they encounter on a daily basis (who may be informants).

FBI 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 FBI or refer to FBI. For each quote, you can also see the other terms 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.
Preface Quotes

The last several years have taken their toll. I ask him about life after September 11 for Arab Americans. “We're the new blacks,” he says. “You know that, right?”

Related Characters: Moustafa Bayoumi (speaker), Sade (speaker)
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:
Omar Quotes

“Look. It's like this,” Eyad, a portly young Egyptian, explained to me. He leaned in to the table and put his weight behind his words. “Before, they went after the Jews, the Italians, the Irish. And now it's our turn. Everybody gets their turn. Now it's just the Muslims.” He leaned back. To my ears these young men were living uneasily in an unresolved contradiction.

They acknowledged that the rights of Muslims were being unfairly trampled on, but they were seduced by the lure of owning a marketable skill (the Arabic language) that was currently in high demand. What they didn't voice was the idea that the culture of the FBI would be changed by their contributions to the Bureau or that civic participation was calling them to serve. They saw an open avenue, wide and empty of traffic, to a job, a profession, a career. It was as if the grinding pressure on their generation to succeed at any cost was taking precedence over everything else.

Related Characters: Moustafa Bayoumi (speaker), Omar
Page Number: 214
Explanation and Analysis:
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FBI Term Timeline in How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?

The timeline below shows where the term FBI appears in How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Preface
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Arab American Identities Theme Icon
Faith, Tradition, and Islam Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
...and he is allowed to attend a private community meeting between Muslim leaders and the FBI, “an example of the failed communication that marks our era.” The FBI tells the leaders... (full context)
Rasha
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
...of the night to find her entire family arrested and fifteen officers occupying their house—an FBI agent explains that they are under investigation “for possible terrorism connections” and could be detained... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
This is not an unprecedented policy: the FBI interned more than 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry after the Pearl Harbor attacks in 1941.... (full context)
Lina
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
One Friday in 2003, the FBI comes to Lina’s house and politely interrogates her about Rana, Wisam, and their other brother... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
...War, and charged with acting as Iraqi intelligence agents, although some evidence suggests they were FBI informants, but the judge “determine[s] that the brothers posed no threat to national security.” (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
...he is guilty and was probably acting as a double agent, working for both the FBI and Saddam. (full context)
Omar
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Arab American Identities Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
...House, Omar and a number of his friends talk with Bayoumi about work and the FBI. One of the young men says the FBI visited his school, al-Noor, the largest Muslim... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Arab American Identities Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
In fact, Omar has even applied for a job at the FBI—he is that desperate—and at the DEA, which wants to send him somewhere like Afghanistan or... (full context)
Afterword
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Arab American Identities Theme Icon
...Arab American civil rights attorney realizes that his communications are being monitored and sues the FBI. This also reveals that the government is doing a security check on every prospective immigrant... (full context)