Discussion Explores Discrimination Against Arab Americans
December 3, 2009 —
The legal battles and other experiences of young Arab Americans took center stage during a panel discussion at the Earle Mack School of Law on Dec.3.
The discussion featured Moustafa Bayoumi
, author of "How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America," attorney Jimmy Yan and law student Yasmin Dwedar, one of the subjects of the book.
Moderated by Professor Anil Kalhan
, the discussion focused on the experiences of the young Arab-Americans profiled by Bayoumi, who is an associate professor of English at Brooklyn College.
Kalhan said Bayoumi’s book is not specifically a legal volume, “but law and lawyering run through it.”
Inspired by a question posed in W.E.B. Dubois’ “The Souls of Black Folk” about how it feels to “be a problem,” Bayoumi sought to “humanize an Arab community that was being dehumanized post-9/11” by shining a light on the injustices this community has suffered due to ethnicity and religion.
“I’ve done quite a few talks about the book, but to have an in-depth investigation around some of the legal issues in the book is kind of a dream come true for me,” Bayoumi said. “A lot of the stories in the book did cover a lot of legal ground. The kinds of stories that impacted the Arab and Muslim community and the nation after 9/11 had a lot of obvious legal repercussions that continue to fall out today. I wanted to find some of the stories resounding in the community, but not getting play outside."
One portrait focused on Dwedar, whose high school forced her to resign from a student government position to which she was elected and then rewrote its council candidate application form to exclude those who for religious reasons might miss certain events.
Unable to afford the cost of a lawyer, Dwedar, currently a law student at the City University of New York, soon found a pro-bono lawyer willing to take her case.
"When Yasmin came in to my office, it was like a civil rights lawyer's dream,” said Yan, who currently is general counsel for the Office of Manhattan Borough President. “This was a reprehensible offense that I could do something about."
Ultimately, Yan was able to reach an agreement with the school that allowed Dwedar to once again run for student government and win.
"I think my interest in law stems from feeling vulnerable and powerless in life," said Dwedar. "I see a lot of pro-bono work for me in the future."
More News »