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Conversations with America

Conversations with America: Moustafa Bayoumi

David Schulman

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Moustafa Bayoumi
(Neville Elder)
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In Brooklyn, there are several different neighborhoods that have relatively large concentrations of Arab Americans and of Muslim Americans. Probably the most important one is Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. And then the older neighborhood in Brooklyn where there are a lot of Arabs and Muslims would be the downtown Brooklyn area around Atlantic Avenue. They sell a lot of cassette tapes and pamphlets, and there's Chinese food that's halal.

Halal is a religious way of slaughtering meat so that it's religiously sanctified; it's similar to kosher. Halal restaurants also won't serve pork or any pork byproducts, and they also won't serve alcohol.

One of the interesting things about the Muslim community in Brooklyn is its multinational character. Some of the Chinese halal restaurants are run by Chinese Muslims. We have Muslims really coming from all different parts of the world, and coming here and creating an American Islam.

One of the elements that's very exciting about it is that it's less and less ethnically identified. In the older generation, you'd have a Turkish mosque, you'd have the Albanian mosque, you'd have the Arab mosque. But if you talk to the young people, they are really interested in the fact that they can connect with people from all over the world as Muslims, and as Americans.

The war on terror has really alienated a lot of American Muslims, who feel that they are at the center of an American law enforcement practice that makes them immediate objects of suspicion. So immediately they are made to feel not at home. And you can find this along the street life in Brooklyn.

If I could take Obama with me anywhere in Brooklyn, I would have to take him to some of the restaurants. Maybe this Yemeni restaurant where they serve most delicious foul, for breakfast. Foul is favabeans that have been mashed up Yemeni style, and it's absolutely delicious. We could sit there and I think we could talk about the war on terror policies - how they've really distorted what real life is like for Muslims, both in the United States and across the world.

MDC is the Metropolitan Detention Center in Sunset Park in Brooklyn. And MDC is a prison. Following the terrorist attacks, several thousand people were swept up by the government, and then placed in detention. Many of them found their way into MDC. And in the mail wing, there were several who, as reported later on, were horrifically abused.

In my book I talk about Rasha and her family. Rasha was 19 when she was arrested. She had no idea when she was going to get out. And of all the people I've talked to, I think Rasha is the most excited for an Obama presidency. It's not surprising to me, because if you haven't understood what it means to have your civil rights trampled upon, it's only an abstract idea. But if you do know what it means, then it's an extraordinarily important thing you can never really let go of in your life. And so I think it's extremely important to consider those kinds of reactions to Obama. And that in fact places a strong burden on him as president. And I think we have to keep pushing that, that a civil rights agenda must also be at the core of his presidency.

  • Music Bridge:
    She Walks In A Dream
    Artist: Takeshi Nishimoto
    CD: Monologue (Buro)
More stories from our Conversations with America series


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