Book Recommendations, Pop Culture

Muslim Terrorist Main Character? Aw, hell naw!

The rule is simple: Get it right or don't publish.

A few days ago, a blurb about a book titled American Terrorist by Todd Strasser went up and caused an uproar in the book community. Here’s the blurb of the book:

Khalil feels trapped. No matter how hard he works to assimilate or to be a good American boy, he hits a wall. He’s called names and is profiled daily. Although his best friend has aspirations to build an app and make both of them teenage millionaires, Khalil finds his future bleak. Especially since his parents had to move back to their country of origin to assist the family they’ve left behind, and he’s left living with his older, more radical brother.

As Khalil struggles to continue being the star student, he becomes more bitter about his situation, and he begins searching for a way to make peace with himself. He wants to take action like his brother has. Like they are called to do. The people who have created this system of oppression must pay.”

There are so many things wrong with this book. As most people stated on Twitter, this book description is so beyond the realm of okay and throws the whole “We Need Diverse Books” movement beneath the table. I have no idea how a young adult book that stereotypes a community of one billion people is being published during a time when so many minority authors have pushed back against these types of books.

I’m so done with authors who decide to write about a minority group and clearly know nothing about the group. I’m not against authors writing about characters whose backgrounds are entirely different than their own but for the love of god and all things chocolate, please do your research.

[bctt tweet=”I’m so done with authors who decide to write about a minority and know nothing.” username=”wearethetempest”]

If Todd had consulted actual Muslims and reached out to Muslim beta readers, I’m sure they would have told him that having a book with a Muslim character who wants “wants to take action like his brother has. Like they are called to do”  and who thinks “the people who have created this system of oppression must pay” is highly offensive and does nothing but perpetuate stereotypes.  Also, what the hell does the phrase “the people who created this system of oppression” mean? It seems this book is playing into the us versus them (the West vs. Muslims) narrative that’s thrown all over the place and is so incredibly misinformed.

[bctt tweet=”Or maybe a Muslim teenager will pick up this book and feel further marginalized. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

Authors, especially those of young adult books, have a responsibility to truthfully portray the cultures that they are depicting. A number of the teenagers who may pick up this book will have never met a Muslim before and this book could potentially be the first book they have read with a Muslim main character. Or maybe a Muslim teenager will pick up this book and feel even further marginalized. There are certain questions that author Todd Strasser really needed to think through before producing this book and that his editor at Simon & Schuster should have considered before approving this book to be published. A few of the questions that come to mind are: what kind of message will a book about a Muslim kid who wants to make “oppressors” “pay” send to someone who has never met a Muslim?; What message does it send to the Muslim high schooler who only ever sees himself represented in books as a terrorist?; How does this book help a Muslim kid who is already bullied for being different?; Does this book cause more harm than good? Based on the description of this book, these questions really haven’t been considered and all likelihood, this book only only further hurt an already misunderstood community.

[bctt tweet=” I want books that showcase Muslims but don’t emphasize stereotypes.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I have a couple of friends who said that maybe this book is just showing the process of being radicalized and isn’t really trying to paint a negative image of Muslims. I don’t fully buy that argument because even if the goal of this book is show how terrorist become terrorists, the very fact that it’s about a Muslim teenage boy who becomes a terrorist is reinforcing a stereotype. There are very very few young adult books with Muslim main characters out there so when I do see one being released, I’m always looking for ones that don’t discuss topics that are traditionally surrounding Muslims. In the news, Muslim men are always discussed in the context of terrorism and Muslim women in the context of arranged marriage — however,  there’s so much more to Muslims than those flashy headlines. Chaplain Khalid Latif recently released a piece on the New York Times about purchasing his first dining table. I loved that piece because it offered a perspective of Muslims that is usually not highlighted in media — Muslims buy dining tables guys! I want books that showcase Muslims but don’t feel the need to emphasize stereotypes surrounding Islam.

[bctt tweet=”I don’t frame every minute of my life in religion. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

I want books with Muslim characters that showcase the reality of what it is to be Muslim, which means that the book should not only focus on their being Muslim. Believe it or not, I don’t wake up in the morning, look in the mirror while getting ready and think “I’m a Muslim woman who is putting on mascara” or “I am a Muslim woman who is brushing her teeth.” I don’t frame every minute of my life in religion. Instead, in the morning I think things like “damn, I look like hell” or “gah, need coffee now!.” I want books with Muslim main characters who like to bake cupcakes, fall in and out of love, or buy freakin’ dining room tables. I don’t need any more books that sensationalize Muslims and just further make them out to be “the other.”

[bctt tweet=”The rule is simple: Get it right or don’t publish.” username=”wearethetempest”]

For future authors who want to write about Muslims, or any minority groups for that matter, and for publishing houses who want to publish that book, please do your research first and make sure that the book offers an accurate portrayal of the minority group. The rule is simple: Get it right or don’t publish.