Review: This Muslim American Life

51VR+0ado6LAs a professor of English at Brooklyn College, The City University of New York, Mustafa Bayouni has lived his subject in This Muslim American life.
The personal and historical narrative of what life has been like for Muslims in American after 9-11 is extremely poignant and timely, as the present political situation targets Muslims in American with greater and more frequent venom.
The personal and historical narrative is divided into four sections:

  1. Muslims in History
  2. Muslims in Theory
  3. Muslims on Politics
  4. Muslims in Culture.

Mr. Bayoumi has had a colorful career outside of academia as well, and this helps to flesh out his observations and scholarly research on the subject of Muslim identity in the post 9-11 world.
He has been an actor, appearing on Sex and the City, as well as in a movie. It is an obvious stereotype that he played an obvious stereotype of a Muslim terrorist on the big screen.  Equally stereotypical, Mr. Bayoumi has been targeted by right wing media pundits for his writing, often being called “anti American” and having a “pro-Islam” agenda.

Right Wing Pundits

It may seem ironic to accuse a Muslim of being “pro-Islam” but remember that this was offered as a sincere criticism by right wing media.
His book offers a few interesting observations about the impact of the 9-11 attacks and the resulting War on Terror.

“War on Terror culture assumes that Muslims collectively are responsible for and sympathetic to all acts of violence by individual Muslims everywhere, unless and until they explicitly say otherwise.”

muslim terorist
The Image of “Muslim”

This negation of an minority group in American society is not new, sadly. Frequently the identity of a minority has been framed in a way by the majority so as to cast doubt on its legitimacy.
The Chinese, the Italians, the Irish, and others all experienced this negation when they were seen by the white majority as a threat or as less than deserving of inclusion.
Mr. Bayoumi goes on to explain how history of Muslim Americans is impacted by this negation.

“War on Terror culture also means that Muslim American history is forgotten, as if Muslims existed in the United States only after September 11, 2001.”

downloadIt seems reminiscent of the erasure from history the enemies of Stalin in the Soviet Union in the 1950’s.
During the killings, Stalin would have the images of his victims erased from photographs and records, making it so that the dead had never existed in the first place.
It was an effective way to cover up the crime, but in another sense it was a second death for the victim. The death of their memory in time.
For Muslim Americans, the impact of the War on Terror is to cast them as not loyal Americans who never existed in this country before the attacks took place. The social memory of the majority does not allow for a place for Muslims in America. If it did then their might be evidence against complete hatred and revenge against anyone the country wants to destroy as revenge for the 9-11 attacks.
Historian Gary Gerstle has written about the negation of minority culture in American history in his article, “Liberty, Coercion and the Making of America.”
He writes,

“The nation itself is a structure of power that, like class, gender and race, necessarily limits the array of identities available to Americans seeking diversity.”

This means that the problem isn’t just a few closed minds or narrow thinkers. The problem is the very nature of American society.
He continues:

“Historians… must also explore the work of nationalism in politics, through Americanization programs, the disciplining of behaviors and peoples deemed un-American, mobilization for war, and patriotic rhetoric promising the poor and downtrodden social and economic equality.”

But this rarely happens. Historians are often dismissed. They are dismissed because the lessons are obvious, but ignoring them is more profitable for the powerful. The lessons of history can be repeated for the benefit of the few at the expense of nations. The mob can be controlled.
The mob cannot be asked to ponder the logic of their ways.
The mob cannot be asked to ponder the logic of their wars.
51VR+0ado6LMr. Bayoumi gives a great read in This Muslim American Life. I recommend it. Please read it and add your comment below.

Author: Tyler Rust