Wednesday, September 8, 2010

How Brooklyn College creates a new class of American victims

The faculty at Brooklyn College chooses one book each year that will be required reading for nearly all incoming freshmen. This year's choice, "How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America," has generated controversy.

Up front and for the record: President Karen Gould and her professorial force are free to assign whatever works they choose - even if academic excellence takes second place to offering students an unchallenging, feel-good bonding experience.

But that freedom comes with the responsibility to provide inquiring minds with the straight goods about the literature they've been ordered to read. Here, by all the evidence, Brooklyn College has failed.

"How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?" was written by Moustafa Bayoumi, an English professor at the school. The book is a collection of seven profiles of Arab-American youths living in Brooklyn after 9/11. Each is a victim in one way or another.

Akram works in his family's East Flatbush bodega, which one resident boycotts because "they support Bin Laden"; Rasha and her family are roused from bed and held in detention as suspected terrorists, then released; Sami, a Marine, deploys to Iraq, where fellow soldiers call him a terrorist because of his background.

College officials say the book is in line with previous selections, such as Frank McCourt's "Angela's Ashes." In their telling, the reading is meant to mirror the diversity of the student body, particularly its immigrant experience.

But to treat Bayoumi's book as nothing more than an anthology of coming-to-America stories is supremely false advertising. This is not a memoir, but a polemic.

Bayoumi chose the profiles to support his argument that social attitudes have combined with the effects of U.S. foreign policy to deprive Muslims and Arab-Americans of civil rights, with the effects felt most severely by the young.

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