How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?

by

Moustafa Bayoumi

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September 11 Term Analysis

On the morning of September 11, 2001, the fundamentalist terrorist organization al-Qaeda hijacked four American planes and flew two into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in downtown Manhattan’s financial district, one into the Pentagon (the headquarters of the United States military), and one into a field in Pennsylvania (after the aircraft’s passengers revolted against the hijackers). The 9/11 attacks killed approximately 3,000 people, plus many more due to later complications, making it the deadliest peacetime attack on civilians in history. In retaliation for the attack, the American government radically expanded its power to surveil and imprison those suspected of terrorism without due process, effectively legalizing the racial profiling of Arab and Muslim Americans, who faced hate crimes and growing prejudice in the years after the attacks. The United States also launched the controversial “War on Terror,” which led it to invade Afghanistan in October 2001 and Iraq in March 2003.

September 11 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 September 11 or refer to September 11. 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:
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:
Sami Quotes

Around this time he decided on the tattoo he wanted to have, once he'd saved enough money. With his large, muscular bulk, he has acres of skin to plow ink into, but he never wanted to stamp himself with the regular bulldog or the eagle, globe, and anchor symbol of the Marine Corps. If he was going to paint himself, he needed something that expressed who he is, something that really spoke to him. What he came up with was the New York City skyline as the tattoo's basis, but instead of the World Trade Center towers, two memorial beams of light will shine upward. The moon, vaguely imprinted with the marine emblem, will land high on his shoulder. The stars will spell out “N-Y-C.” Underneath, and in Arabic, will be written the words “Always remembered, never forgotten.” A little bit of everything—New York, Marine, Arab—to be put carefully together and marked indelibly.

Related Characters: Moustafa Bayoumi (speaker), Sami
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:
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September 11 Term Timeline in How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?

The timeline below shows where the term September 11 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
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
...religion, or country of origin. Hate crimes against Arabs and Muslims have risen precipitously since the September 11 attacks and many Americans—39 percent, according to one poll—openly admit their prejudices against Muslims. (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Arab American Identities Theme Icon
The government has also relentlessly tracked and arrested Muslims since September 11 —George W. Bush even made Arabs and Muslims the only legal exception to his ban... (full context)
Rasha
Arab American Identities Theme Icon
...Rasha’s family buys a house in Bay Ridge; in September 2001, she begins college. On September 11 , Rasha’s mother says she cannot go to school because the subway is broken—there has... (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
...she disappeared for three months. She feels freer than ever but hears constant talk about 9/11 and wants to scream, knowing the injustice of her situation. Nobody in the family talks... (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 counsel to help them or family to support them. Many are deported in... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
...more than 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry after the Pearl Harbor attacks in 1941. The post-9/11 detentions were nowhere near as massive, but the parallels are clear: neither had any effect... (full context)
Sami
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
...like everyone else, has no doubts about the American mission. It will be payback for 9/11; they are following the orders of their president and commander-in-chief. Watching the first airstrikes at... (full context)
Faith, Tradition, and Islam Theme Icon
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
News of the 9/11 attacks comes during a rest stop the next morning; Sami cannot contact his family until... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Arab American Identities Theme Icon
...background; everyone assumes he is Hispanic. A rabid Yankees fan, he stumbles on news about 9/11 for the first time after watching the Yankees lose the World Series to the Arizona... (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
...even deployed at all. One day, one of them buys a bootleg copy of Fahrenheit 9/11 from an Iraqi, and Sami realizes that he is only fighting for the personal gain... (full context)
Yasmin
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Faith, Tradition, and Islam Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
The next school year starts in September of 2001. On the morning of the 9/11 attacks, the school falls into chaos but Yasmin goes to the Leadership room and has... (full context)
Akram
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Arab American Identities Theme Icon
...of anti-Semitism. (Bayoumi has encountered numerous stories of racist teachers in his research, especially after September 11 ). (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Arab American Identities Theme Icon
Akram is in his senior year of high school during 9/11, which he initially thinks must have been a joke. In the class after the news... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
...mistaken for Arabs, are beaten, murdered, or have their stores burned in the months after 9/11. But Akram’s customers reach out to the family, offering support—except for one local man, Walter,... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Arab American Identities Theme Icon
The week after September 11 , when school resumes at Edward R. Murrow, one of Akram’s teachers confronts him: “where... (full context)
Omar
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Indeed, in the year after September 11 , employment discrimination complaints from Arabs and Muslims rose 400 percent; they filed one-fifth of... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Arab American Identities Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
...with his Arab side, hanging out with other Arab kids and learning Palestinian customs. On September 11 , he is shocked when his teacher announces the attacks; he worries about his aunt... (full context)
Rami
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
After 9/11, law enforcement begins investigating Arab groceries (which they believe fund terrorism) and plants an informant... (full context)
Afterword
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
For the first time, after September 11 , all Arabs and Muslims, “immigrant and citizen, activist and spectator,” become subject to the... (full context)